PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Category Archives: simulation and gaming materials

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 19 February 2017

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It has been a busy month, and as a consequence we are a bit behind on updates. So here (at last) is the latest issue of simulations and gaming miscellany, filled with items on serious and not-so-serious gaming that may be of interest to PAXsims readers.

James Sterrett suggested material for this latest edition.

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It’s official! The next Connections UK interdisciplinary wargaming conference will be held at King’s College London on 5-7 September 2017. I plan to be there.

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The Connections US wargaming conference will be held this year in Quantico, VA on 1-4 August 2017.

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PAXsims

The Military Operations Research Society will be extending the 85th MORS Symposium abstract submission deadline to 10 March 2017.

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The website for the 2017 North American Simulation and Gaming Association is now live. The deadline for conference proposals is 31 March 2017.

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The Canadian military has issued guidelines to assist peacekeepers in dealing with child soldiers. To support such training, students at  Dalhousie University have developed a game on the topic, in cooperation with the Romeo Dallaire Child Soldier Initiative.

It’s a written training manual given interactive life, and it’s the brainchild of a group of informatics students at the Halifax school.

Developed over three semesters by 11 students, the game is set to be tested with peacekeepers in the field as part of training offered by Dalhousie’s Romeo Dallaire Child Soldier Initiative.

Josh Boyter, who works with the Dallaire initiative, said the game is designed so it can be deployed in some of the most difficult hotspots around the world without having to utilize the Internet or wireless connections.

“This game can sit on a USB key,” said Boyter.

“It’s all locally based, so as long as they have a browser on their laptop . . . the game won’t break. It’s purely designed to be as robust as possible.”

Boyter said his organization plans to give the game to the first child protection adviser to be attached to an African Union peacekeeping mission. The adviser will use it to help train soldiers and police.

“We are really excited to see how it actually is going to help in terms of our ultimate mission, which is to end the use of child soldiers,” he said.

The game presents a range of scenarios and roles in which child soldiers could be encountered, including as spies or even suicide bombers. Each scenario presents a list of choices for dealing with the child soldier and the game user is ultimately told whether those choices are right or wrong.

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Ars Technica reports on an effort in Berlin to use boardgames to bring newly-arrived refugees and Germans closer together:

At the shelter I frequent most, a children’s worker named Robin spends many afternoons playing games with the kids. He teaches them the German classic Mensch, Ärgere Dich Nicht, a best-selling variant of Parcheesi. It has become one of their favorites.

My friend Karin, who publishes games for businesses, wants to donate some games for the refugees. She gives me black-and-white Parcheesi boards that can be colored in by the children, and we pick out various colors of pawns and dice to include with each board.

When I pull out the game boards at the shelter the following week, the children enjoy choosing their pawns. Then they get right to work, adding color to their boards with the markers and colored pencils I bring with me. When finished, they cannot believe that the games are theirs to keep. I assure them that they are—and suddenly find myself in the middle of a group hug.

Later, I ask my friend Thorsten—who works for the large Berlin publisher who makes Mensch Ärgere Dich Nicht—if the company would be able to donate any games as Christmas presents for the children. He packs a large box, which I supplement with a few extra chess sets and some games that designer Néstor sent me. My family joins me in wrapping and distributing them.

This happens on a very special night, as the refugees are finally moving to “container apartments” after a full year of bunk beds and bedsheet partitions in a converted indoor basketball court. We are invited to share food and join in a dance, and the children’s eyes light up when they receive a game of their very own.

But the gifts are more than just games. They are reminders of the times we shared together every week over the past year, and the promise of more to come.

PAXsims

Following their very successful Simnovate conference in May 2016, the Steinberg Centre for Simulation and Interactive Learning at McGill University will be holding another Simnovate event in Montreal on 29 March 2017:

Our four work groups, i.e. patient safety, medical technologies, global health, and pervasive learning, have come together, and with outputs from the youth innovation and costs of innovation panel, produced a series of high quality manuscripts. These will be published in a special issue of BMJ Simulation and Technology Enhanced Learning, to be publicly launched at the Mar 29 event.

We are extremely pleased to have Dr. Russell Gruen, Director of the Nanyang Institute of Technology in Health and Medicine in Singapore, Dr. Nick Sevdalis, Editor-in-Chief of BMJ Simulation and Technology Enhanced Learning, and Ms. Katrine Kirk, Danish Patient Safety Champion, join us in Montreal for the event. We also have the pleasure of hosting Assistant Deputy Minister Marie-Josée Blais, Ministry of Economy, Science and Innovation, Province of Quebec, as well as many of the original invitees to the May 2016 event, to encourage and propagate further discussion, dissemination and implementation of the simnovate mission.

The event commences at 1:30pm, with a series of keynotes, panel sessions and discussions, followed by a cocktail reception for networking and further follow-up.

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PAXsimsPolygon recently reported on UNESCO’s interest in the power of gaming to promote empathy, understanding, and positive social change:

For lots of gamers, the power of the medium is its ability to place us in the shoes of other people, making tough choices that we’d otherwise never need to contemplate.

But how does that message of power and opportunity spread outwards, away from the mostly indie games that address serious issues, and the relatively small number of people who celebrate these noble efforts?

He’s also the author of a new report commissioned by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) which seeks to find ways in which games can be used to foster empathy and understanding around the world. The report was commissioned by UNESCO subsidiary the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace.

WP_cover.pngDarvasi’s report — Empathy, Perspective and Complicity: How Digital Games can support Peace Education and Conflict Resolution — focuses on academic studies into how so-called “serious games” can alter perspectives and create cognitive empathy.

“Perspective-taking helps negotiate social complexities, diminish biases, improve inter-group attitudes, and encourage a view of outgroups as more self-like,” states the report. “The potential to positively impact attitudes with digital games is not only rooted in their ability to grant perspective, but also in their potency as instruments of persuasion.”

“If you read the literature on conflict resolution, perspective-taking is very important in order to reconcile opposing points of view,” says Darvasi. “It’s difficult to have empathy if you can’t put yourself into somebody else’s perspective. Video games allow you to assume perspectives in an embodied form.

“When you watch the news or a documentary, you might not feel connected to the issue. But video games immerse you in the action. Your actions have consequences within the game and therefore there’s a greater emotional and cognitive investment.”

PAXsims

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The latest update to Power & Revolution: Geopolitical Simulator 4 was released by Eversim on January 20, to coincide with the inauguration of US President Donald Trump:

Donald Trump’s Challenge : play as the new chief executive of the United States and strive to keep your campaign promises on issues such as reducing the tax burden, stimulating the economy or the fight against illegal immigration… all while avoiding bankrupting the nation and maintaining your approval ratings with the end goal of being reelected for a second term in 202

War in Syria and Iraq 2017 : play as one or several warring factions in the new conflict map configuration updated as of the beginning of 2017 and strive to emerge victorious or put an end to hostilities. NB : the conflict scenarios from the beginning of 2016 will still be playable.

Gross National Happiness : improve the quality of life for your people by implementing reforms and try to raise your country’s global ranking.

French Election 2017 : play as one of the candidates in the French national elections or even the current chief of state and run a campaign, manage your budget, establish your campaign platform, participate in debates and try to get elected (or reelected) to the highest office.

Before you all ask, PAXsims has no information on whether the update includes dubious connections with Russian intelligence, immigration and refugee bans, “fake news”, bizarre press conferences, arguments over the size of crowds on the Mall, or turmoil in the National Security Council.

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In early January, a not-exactly-secret ICONS simulation was mentioned in the New York Times article on US support for the Baltic states:

The intelligence also informs planning in Washington. In October, the military’s Joint Staff conducted a three-day confidential simulation exercise involving four possible situations in Latvia in which Russia used drones, cyberwarfare and media manipulation.

We’re told the event wasn’t classified at all, simply held under Chatham House Rules.

PAXsims

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In March 2017 Hollandspiele will be releasing two Brian Train wargames-in-one:

Ukrainian Crisis will be much the same as the PnP version available now here, except that the Resource cards will be chits (they can’t print up that many cards), the game length is increased to 9 turns and there are a few extra units, for variety and to fill up the counter sheet.

Even better, this will be half of a two-game package… the other game will be the mini-game The Little War, on the brief Slovak-Hungarian border war of March 1939! This one uses only 30 counters and a deck of ordinary playing cards to drive the action. I designed this one last year.

You can find out more at Brian’s blog, Ludic Futurism.

PAXsims

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A recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association Neurology by Janina Krell-Roesch, Prashanthi Vemuri, and Anna Pink suggests that playing games can significantly reduce the risk of new-onset mild cognitive impairment:

Question  Does engaging in a mentally stimulating activity in old age associate with neurocognitive function?

Findings  In this population-based cohort study, 1929 cognitively normal participants 70 years or older were followed for approximately 4 years. The following activities were associated with significant decreased risk of new-onset mild cognitive impairment: computer use, craft activities, social activities, and playing games.

Meaning  Engaging in a mentally stimulating activity even in late life may decrease the risk of mild cognitive impairment.

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Recently Brant Guillory at GrogHeads interviewed James Sterrett of the US Army Command & General Staff College about how hobby wargaming is making its way (back) into professional military ranks. You’ll find the whole thing here.

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Jim Wallman’s No Game Survives… blog on megagames continues to have lots of interesting content, including this handy “can it be megagamed” flow chart.

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Jim was recently hopped across the Atlantic to Montréal to run a megagame at McGill University, War in Binni. I’ll be writing up a game report soon.

PAXsims

PETA is concerned that so many Games Workshop Warhammer figures appear to be wearing fur:

The grimdark, battle-hardened warriors are known for their martial prowess – but wearing the skins of dead animals doesn’t take any skill.

Indeed, nothing on the bloody battlefields of Warhammer’s conflict-ravaged universe could match the terrible reality that foxes, minks, rabbits, and other living beings experience at the hands of the fur trade. Those killed for their fur typically first endure a bleak life inside a tiny, filthy wire cage before being electrocuted, drowned, or even skinned alive. Or they may be in the wild, minding their own business, when they get caught in a horrific bone-crushing steel-jaw trap – often languishing for days before eventually dying from starvation, dehydration, or blood loss.

PETA has written to Games Workshop CEO Kevin Rountree asking that the leading British miniature war-gaming brand ban “fur” garments from all Warhammer characters. While we appreciate that they are fictional, draping them in what looks like a replica of a dead animal sends the message that wearing fur is acceptable – when, in fact, it has no more place in 2017 than it would in the year 40,000.

This, of course, provoked much outrage, sarcasm, derision, mirth, and discussion among Warhammer players.

…which, PETA later admitted, was kind of what they were aiming for:

We’re laughing, too! For the cost of a postage stamp, our website has received record traffic – and the people who were prompted to visit our site by this story can’t have missed the prominently featured eyewitness footage showing that animals in real life are electrocuted, drowned, and sometimes even skinned alive for their fur.

Here’s a little secret: we know that Warhammer characters are fictional, and we’re not losing sleep worrying about what Leman Russ or the other miniatures are “wearing”. We are, however, lying awake at night thinking of ways to make people aware that real animals who are raised for their fur, skin, or flesh are suffering every day. We’ll sleep a little more easily tonight knowing that we’ve managed to get nearly a quarter of a million people (and counting!) to visit PETA.org.uk in the days since we sent our letter, because – whatever their reason for doing so – they’ll now know more about the cruelty behind fur.

So by all means, have a laugh at this campaign – you can even laugh at us – but please remember that the fur industry is a living hell for animals. If that bothers you, and it should, please share our fur exposés with your friends and family.

Well played, PETA, well played.

PAXsims

Last but certainly not least, PAXsims is very pleased to report that we’ve now had more that 500,000 page views and 200,000 visitors to the website. We’re also well on track to making 2017 our best year ever. Many thanks to our readers and contributors to making it possible!

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“Our Sea”—An Eastern Mediterranean matrix game

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The ever-prolific Tom Mouat has completed the design of another matrix game, this time devoted to strategic jockeying by Russia, NATO, and others in the Black Sea and eastern Mediterranean:

President Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin has sought to reverse the post-Cold War era transformations during which Russia lost its satellites, withdrew militarily from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), forfeited its regional predominance, and curtailed its international power projection. Moscow’s primary strategic objective under the Putin presidency is to create a Eurasian bloc of states under predominant Russian influence that will necessitate containing, undermining and reversing NATO influence throughout eastern Europe. Even where it cannot pressure or entice its neighbours to integrate in the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the Kremlin attempts to neutralize nearby capitals by preventing them from moving into Western institutions, particularly NATO and the European Union (EU).

In this strategic context, Russia’s supremacy in the Black Sea becomes critical for restoring its east European and Eurasian dominion, as well as projecting power toward the Mediterranean and Middle East. Its offensives in and around the Black Sea are part of a larger anti-NATO strategy in which naval forces play a significant and growing role. Russia is using the Black Sea as a more advantageous method of revisionism than extensive land conquests. Control of ports and sea lanes delivers several benefits: it prevents NATO from projecting sufficient security for its Black Sea members; deters the intervention of littoral states on behalf of vulnerable neighbours; threatens to choke the trade and energy routes of states not in compliance with Russia’s national ambitions; and gives Moscow an enhanced ability to exploit fossil fuels in maritime locations.

All of this assumes particular significance, of course, against the backdrop of Russian deployment of its (rather dilapitated) aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov to support combat operations in Syria, reports that NATO is again playing hide-and-seek with Russian attack submarines in the Med (and vice-versa), continued conflict in the Ukraine, political uncertainty in Turkey, the regional migrant crisis, and the growing value of eastern Mediterranean oil and gas deposits.

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The actors represented in the game include the US, Turkey, Russia, Ukraine, Cyprus, and the UK, and turns represent around 2-4 weeks. Rules, counters, and maps are included, and can be downloaded from here (pdf).

C-WAM: Center for Army Analysis Wargaming Analysis Model

At GovTechWorks, Michael Peck has a very interesting article on the Center for Army Analysis Wargaming Analysis Model, or C-WAM:

Computers continue to revolutionize modern warfare, not the least of when it comes to putting battle plans to the test. Devise the scenario, feed it into the computer and out spews detailed estimates of risk, supply consumption and more.

But as it turns out, that there’s nothing like pitting humans against humans – at least to get the kinks out of a plan to begin with.

Indeed, Pentagon leaders right up to the deputy secretary of defense are using a house-built Army board game – complete with outcome tables and standard dice – to spot the flaws in battle plans before crunching the numbers with modern computing. Just as manned aircraft and drones can team to form a highly effective partnership, computer models linked to board games can bring out the best qualities of both.

The Army calls its board game C-WAM – short for the Center for Army Analysis Wargaming Analysis Model. Games pit (friendly) Blue versus (enemy) Red forces and results are fed into the Joint Integrated Contingency Model (JICM), a powerful computer simulation that analyzes plans and calculates losses and supply consumption.

First developed eight years ago, C-WAM is increasingly popular and has been used by Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work, a well-known vigorous advocate for analytical wargaming as well as the Joint Staff, multiple Combatant Commands (COCOMs) including Pacific (PACOM) and European (EUROCOM) commands, and other major component commands, such as U.S. Pacific Fleet and Pacific Air Forces and U.S. Air Forces Europe.

The game has also been used to test potential effectiveness of new weapons during the acquisition process.

“Demand is far outstripping our capacity at this point,” says C-WAM creator Daniel Mahoney III, a campaign analyst for Center for Army Analysis at Fort Belvoir, Va. “We turn people down now for wargaming requests.”

Understanding the Game

Physically, C-WAM consists of a tabletop map typically about five-feet long and four-feet wide. Players maneuver their pieces (representing brigades) across the map, just like in any other tabletop game. The digital Battle Tracker– a simple computer database — rolls digital dice and tracks losses, supplies and so on. If they prefer, players may also choose to use conventional physical dice.

The Blue and Red teams are each led by a commander-in-chief and supported by ground, air and naval commanders. A White Cell umpire, supported by a few more people to run the Battle Tracker, oversees the game as it plays out. …

What’s more, Michael has gone a step further, and obtained a copy of the C-WAM rule book. You’ll find it here.

This detailed  April 2016 presentation on C-WAM by Daniel Mahoney to the MORS wargaming community of practice may also be of interest.

h/t Michael Peck

Nine-dash Line: A South China Sea matrix game

The following game was developed by PAXsims associator editor Tom Mouat.


 

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Nine-dash Line is a game of regional competition and cooperation in the South China Sea. It uses a matrix game mechanism, an approach we’ve discussed extensively here at PAXsims. The game’s title, of course, refers to China’s maritime and territorial claims in the area.

The game was developed for two reasons: The first was to generate a contemporary game in a regional potential flashpoint that I hadn’t done before; and the second was to get some understanding of the region prior to a visit to the Defence Academy by a senior Vietnamese delegation. As has been discussed before, the act of designing a game generates a greater understanding of the situation even before the players are included. This was no exception as I was surprised just how little I knew (despite participating in an FPDA exercise a few years ago).

We ran the game recently and, since it was set in the contemporary situation, the US Presidential election featured part way through the game. We diced for the result with a 58% chance of a Clinton victory (able to be modified by arguments) with the result that she won a clear victory. It will be interesting to see if this matrix game was accurate in this respect in November.

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This game featured a number of random event cards, which worked well with the players, but we elected to modify the narrative and effect of the cards as best met the situation of the individual circumstances at the time. For example, in a previous turn the USA had successfully argued for an oil survey vessel operating in support of the Philippines Government and in the following turn the “Oil Discovery!” Card came up. This was too good an opportunity to miss, so the USA was permitted an additional argument to determine the extent of the oil discovery.

We also elected to try the idea of providing a more general background briefing for the players and requiring them to identify their own objectives over the coming months of game play.

The game went as follows:

  • Turn 1: A typhoon hit the area of the Spratly Islands and the coast of the Philippines, with considerable destruction and loss of life. China deployed naval ships to the area, supported by a Malaysian hospital ship and a repair vessel. The US Navy also carried out humanitarian assistance along the Philippines Coast, but the Philippine President took the opportunity to attack drug operations in coastal cities. The Vietnam Government successfully invited the Russian Navy for joint exercises off Cam Ranh Bay and Taiwan dispatched a repair ship to their lone outpost in the Spratly Islands.
  • Turn 2: There was a dispute between Pilipino fishermen and Taiwan resulting in damage to the Pilipino vessel, cut nets, and serious injury to one of the crew. The Taiwan Government quickly defused the situation by escorting the vessel away from Taiwanese claimed waters and paying compensation to the owners. The Russian / Vietnamese joint exercise was a great success and was accompanied by a political initiative to increase Russian involvement in Cam Hanh Bay. Chinese and US Navy submarines shadowed the exercise, gaining valuable intelligence. The Philippines took advantage of Chinese efforts being concentrated on the Vietnamese and the ongoing repair efforts in the Spratly Islands, to re-establish a lighthouse in Scarborough Shoal.
  • Turn 3: The Taiwan government was embarrassed by their repair vessel running aground in spectacular fashion, in the glare of media attention, near Taiping Island. Efforts to rescue the ship were a fiasco and their standing in international media was something of a joke.  Clinton won the US election convincingly and took the opportunity to sponsor oil survey ships in Filipino waters in an effort to improve relations even more with the Philippines President. At this point Malaysia took the chance (with clandestine help from the Chinese) to launch a cyber-attack on the Vietnamese and Soviet exercise. This was spectacularly successful, knocking out both nations’ air defence radar systems for an extended period, but there were unforeseen second-order effects that impacted on the US submarine and civilian shipping navigation systems. China attempted to covertly establish some deep ocean facilities for their submarine force north of the Spratly Islands.
  • Turn 4: Oil was discovered by the US survey vessels and the value of Filipino investments rose sharply with the news. Chinese and Vietnamese survey ships closed in on the area (carefully outside the 200nm Philippines exclusive economic zone), but the Vietnamese ship had technical problems and had to turn back. Taiwan finally manage to repair the Taiping Island facility. The Malaysians had embedded in the code of their cyber-attack subtle and sophisticated hints that the origin of the attack was the Philippines. This was successful with the Vietnamese and Russians, but the US NSA was more cautious in apportioning blame. The US Navy located and identified all of the Chinese deep ocean facilities.
  • Turn 5: Media attention switched to Germany where a hacking attack on one of Europe’s largest healthcare insurance providers leaked the confidential medical records of some 2.7 million European citizens. With events escalating in the area and Russian involvement, the USA called an international summit to discuss the crisis and we ended the game there.

The game was a lot of fun and easy to adjudicate. Sadly, we were playing without any detailed expertise in the area, but nevertheless we felt that it had helped us to begin to understand the geography, capabilities and issues of the region, and was valuable educationally.

Tom Mouat

BOMBER! —a game about targeting and ethics in war

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PAXsims associate editor Tom Mouat recently put the finishing touches on BOMBER!, a quick and simple game intended to “promote discussion about military bombing, asymmetric warfare, political ideals, deception and ethical/humanitarian behaviour.”

This game is designed to be played with small groups of students, preferably 3 per side in each group, as a classroom activity taking no more than 45 minutes, followed by a post-game discussion taking another 45 minutes. The game itself is relatively simple and is based on a modified version of the children’s game “Battleships” so should be easily accessible to students.

You’ll find all the necessary materials at the link above.

Review: Paddy Griffith’s Counter-Insurgency Wargames

John Curry, ed. Paddy Griffith’s Counter Insurgency Wargames (History of Wargaming Project, 2016). 91pp. £12.95pb

 

Griffith.jpegPaddy Griffith—military historian, lecturer at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, hobbyist, and founding member of Wargame Developments— was an influential figure in the evolution of British wargaming. In this volume, John Curry and his History of Wargaming Project have collected together materials from two counterinsurgency (COIN) simulations that Griffith developed in the late 1970s, as well as the outline of the main components of a live action exercise. Prolific COIN wargame designer Brian Train provides a Foreword to the collection, placing the wargames in the broader context of developments in counter-insurgency doctrine and practice.

If the first game, LONGREACH VILLAGE (1980), looks rather like a fictionalized British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary hunting for an IRA active service unit in a Northern Ireland border village—well, that’s hardly surprising, for such was the counterinsurgency challenge that would be faced by young British officers at the time. Today,  when most insurgencies and COIN wargames alike involve underdeveloped and failed states, it may all seem of marginal relevance. After all, this is not a setting where there are major impediments of poverty, language, or cultural understanding. Instead the background materials outline the milkman’s daily routine, the opening hours of the pubs, banks, and shops, and details of the local farmers’ market. However, in doing so the game provides an outstanding example of the sort pattern-of-life analysis that underpins local intelligence collection and tactical patrolling in almost all peacekeeping, COIN, counter-terrorism, and stabilization operations. This is something that—with the notable exception of Jim Wallman’s BARWICK GREEN game—is almost completely absent from modern wargames on the topic , which focus instead on either local armed clashes or larger-scale operational and strategic issues. Is Mr. X acting suspiciously, or is he they simply eccentric? Is a meeting in the pub a benign collection of friends, or a plot in progress? Where can you best position an OP to observe civilian (and possible insurgent) activity without being spotted? Where should vehicle checkpoints be established? What sorts of information should you be collecting? Who might be hoarding precursors for IEDs and other weapons, and how would you know?

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The border village of Longreach.

The wargame is largely played by having the Security Force and Red Cell players allocate personnel to missions, schedule their various activities, and plot their locations or routes, with the umpire then adjudicating the outcomes. The book also contains some brief suggestions for resolving some activities on the tabletop. Supporting materials include a map of the village, background information on the villagers, a list of daily routine activities, as well as the assets available to the Security Forces and Red Cell.

The second COIN exercise is SUMMER IN ORANGELAND, which envisages possible terrorist activity by the “People’s Liberation Army” in the fictional town of Dodgem-on-Sea. Any resemblance here to IRA cells (or perhaps 1970s era leftist terrorists) operating in the mainland UK would not be coincidental. In this case the primary government actor is the local police force which, in addition to dealing with a possible terrorist cell, also has to cope with a busy schedule of other challenges: planning and security for the summer carnival, a football final, a concert, gold bullion shipments, and even a royal visit. The terrorists—some of whom have decidedly Irish surnames—must plan and execute a plot before they are discovered. In typical Paddy Griffith fashion, there are a few curveballs and eccentricities to keep the players on their toes.

The final exercise, GREEN HACKLE, is a series of live-action tactical vignettes to be carried out over three days by approximately 250 Sandhurst cadets operating in a mock-up village training area. The book contains a list of scripted events, plus some photographs.

Altogether, this slim volume provides fascinating insight into British counterinsurgency training in the 1970s and early 1980s. Moreover, the first two games highlight key challenges of tactical intelligence and analysis that remain highly relevant to contemporary COIN, counter-terrorism, peacekeeping, and stabilization operations. They are easily adapted or modified for classroom use, or could provide the inspiration for similar sorts of wargames set in other, rather different, political and cultural contexts.

Connections 2016 conference report

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


 

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

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

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

Day 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Day 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Day 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Migrant cards

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Tom Mouat’s “migrant cards.”

Several weeks ago I spent a week in the Portsmouth area with the wargaming team from the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl). A trip report on that visit is forthcoming, as soon as the necessary clearances and approvals are received.

In the meantime, I did want to make mention of one part of the visit, namely a half day Tom Mouat and I spent with the team discussing gaming “wicked and messy problems.” A particular focus of that discussion was refugees and other migrants.

I’ve (war)gamed such issues before. Refugee issues figure prominently in the Brynania peacebuilding simulation. Displaced persons make an appearance in AFTERSHOCK. I’ve run games on refugees for Exeter University, United Nation agencies, and as part of so-called “track two” informal Israeli-Palestinian discussions. Refugee and migration games also figured in last year’s Connections UK conference.

In the course of the Dstl discussion, several issues came up. One was the need to humanize migrants in a game, and not merely treat them as a faceless number. Second, and related to this, was the value of treating migrants as actors who would respond to policy changes in innovative ways, rather than simply as the unthinking objects of policy action. Finally, the difficulty was raised of sorting out the very few bad apples from the great majority of desperate people seeking safety for themselves and their families, anxious to contribute to their host societies. I mentioned that it would be useful to have a game component—migrant cards, perhaps—that would allow you to do this in the context of a variety of different game designs, whether rules-based or more free-form (such as a matrix game).

At this point, Tom Mouat’s eyes lit up with a particular glint that those who know Tom will know well. A few weeks later and he has now produced a set of such cards, which he has made available for free to anyone who wishes to incorporate them into a game design:

The cards are available as both individual  graphic files (.jpg) and as templates for standard Avery 2×3.4″ business card stock, so that they can be easily printed directly onto cards. One side depicts a nameless, faceless, and perhaps slightly ominous, migrant. The other side reveals the actual human being and their possible future.

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There are no rules for using these—rather, they are being provided here as game materials for readers to use. If you do use them in a game design or for another purpose, Tom and I would love to hear about it. If you care to develop a quick educational game using them, send on the rules and we may even post them to PAXsims.

Decisive Action Training Environment

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War is Boring has obtained, via a FOIA request, a copy of the latest (April 2015) version of the US Army’s Decisive Action Training Environment. The 825 page DATE document offers a fictional military, political, and socio-economic setting, located within a semi-fictionalized Caucasus region, for use in Army training exercises, wargames, and other learning activities:

The purpose of this Decisive Action Training Environment (DATE) document, version 2.2, is to provide the US Army training community with a detailed description of the conditions of five operational environments (OEs) in the Caucasus region; specifically the countries of Ariana, Atropia, Donovia, Gorgas, and Limaria. It presents trainers with a tool to assist in the construction of scenarios for specific training events but does not provide a complete scenario. The DATE offers discussions of OE conditions through the Political, Military, Economic, Social, Information, Infrastructure, Physical Environment, and Time (PMESII-PT) variables. This DATE applies to all US Army units (Active Army, Army National Guard, and Army Reserve) that participate in an Army or joint training exercise.

This DATE will incorporate some real-world data and some artificial data in order to set the conditions for a wide range of training events, to include decisive operations. Section 2: Variables of the OE and Orders of Battle (OBs) provides the bulk of these details. The variable discussion explores the complex and ever-changing combination of conditions, circumstances, and influences that could affect military operations within a given OE. The PMESII-PT variables offer insight into each country’s independent, dynamic, and multi-dimensional environment. By defining these variables’ makeup and interoperability as they relate to a specific country, a picture emerges of the environment’s nature and characteristics. The OBs, which follow each country’s PMESII-PT variable discussions, contain the administrative force structure (AFS).

As War is Boring notes, the “fictional countries” bear striking resemblance to the real countries of the region:

Ariana — clearly filling in for Iran — is a theocracy ruled by a clerical caste. “A brutally efficient military ensures the continuation of the current power structure,” the guide explains. “A sham representative government appeases or distracts Western interests.”

Atropia and Limaria substitute for Azerbaijan and Armenia, respectively. The Army describes the first as a “classic dictatorship” and the second simply as an “autocracy.”

In Atropia, “every national success or failure reflects directly on the ruling family,” the handbook says — a clear reference to Heydar Aliyev, who governed the province of Azerbaijan under Soviet rule between 1969 and 1982, and then, in 1993, became the third president of independent Azerbaijan.

Then there’s Limaria. Its “key political goal is the survival and advancement of the Limarian ethnicity,” according to the DATE. “Any argument for action between Limarians can be won by the side offering better protection for the local and diaspora population.”

No clearer reference could be made to Armenia and the national sentiment of Armenians the world over. Much to the dismay of Turkish authorities, Armenians understandably and regularly petition foreign governments and organizations to recognize the genocide that occurred between 1915 and 1917, when suspicious Turkish authorities orchestrated the deaths of up to two million Armenians.

To this day, Ankara disputes this number and refuses to describe the events as systematic genocide.

Atropia and Limaria don’t get along in the Army’s war-gaming universe, either. The two countries are locked in conflict over a region called “Lower Janga,” with each supporting various militant factions such as the Free Lower Janga Movement and the Limarian Liberation Front.

Back in the real world, since 1988 the Armenians and Azeris have fought a prolonged but sporadic skirmish over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. In April 2016, factions in the area clashed, leading to what some observers described as a “four-day war.”

Donovia and Gorgas — stand-ins for Russia’s autonomous Caucasus republics and the independent Republic of Georgia, respectively — have a similarly tense relationship in the game world. The Army gives its most positive description to the residents of Gorgas.

“Gorgas is a political oddity in the region as an emerging representative democracy,” the DATE manual explains. “Gorgas is trying to make a democracy work and stands to lose much if let down by Western interests.”

By contrast, Donovia “is an authoritarian state led by a small, incestuous elite,” according to the DATE. “This group uses state power and resources to enrich itself and secure both domestic and international political support.”

This fake country covers the part of Russia occupied by the semi-autonomous and nominally Muslim provinces of Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia and North Ossetia. In the real world, local and international media and humanitarian groups regularly describe Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov as a gangster.

The DATE handbook provides an overview of the overall strategic setting; a detailed summary of political, military, economic, social, information, infrastructure, physical environment, time, and order of battle data for each fictional country; an account of 77 recent events, which might be used as scenarios or vignettes; and a series of appendices with additional military information.

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Collectively, it all represents an outstanding free resource for political-military simulation designers looking for a highly detailed, (semi-)fictionalized backdrop for their scenarios.

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Matrix games for language training

The following report was contributed by Major Tom Mouat, Directing Staff officer responsible for Modelling and Simulation at the Defence Academy of the UK.


Recently in the Defence Academy of the UK, the Defence Culture and Language Centre approached the Simulation Department for some help and advice about the possibility of assisting them with some activities that could provide help with language training.

Initially they were thinking of a high-tech virtual-reality simulation based offering, something like the excellent capability offered by companies such as Alelo. We were able to advise them on that (the problem isn’t in the software, which really is very good, but in the support and maintenance of the computer suite necessary to run the system), but also to let them know that there are a number of alternate possibilities offered by simulation that could help.

One simple example was to take the first-person shooter game, VBS2, by BISim, and set up a simple two player game. One players would be the UAV operator flying over a town and guiding the other player, driving a vehicle through the town to a defined rendezvous, over the radio. The route would have different obstacles and even obvious IEDs to avoid, and the two players would communicate to each other in order to direct the vehicle to its target. Simple and fun.

The other possibility was to use the matrix game system to run a game. Matrix games are run with the players taking it in turns to use verbal “arguments” to advance their position in the game and, if the arguments were made in the language being trained in, it could provide a fun alternative to conventional classroom training and give context to the use of the language in a mildly competitive setting.

The scenario chosen for the trial was a deliberately “cartoon” fictitious setting of a south American republic, complete with a Drug Baron, Army Commander, Village Elder and corrupt Police. One of the young men from a local village had been kidnapped after being a little too vocal in his criticism of the local Drug Baron, and the Army and Police had been tasked to ensure his safe return.

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The game was simplified from the normal matrix game format in that, providing the players could make themselves understood, their argument would automatically succeed, unless there were obvious reasons why they might not.

Lessons learned:

  • It took much longer for each player to make their argument than I expected. They were trying in a foreign language and I wildly over-estimated their capability. This means that the game would probably not really be suitable for large classes and the other players might have become disengaged, were it not for the fact that the instructor chose one of the other players at random to translate the argument back into English for me each turn. This really worked and helped to bring out all the misunderstandings in syntax and grammar by the students themselves.
  • The players enjoyed the occasional use of the dice to resolve arguments and keep the game moving. It made it more of a fun game and less of a serious chore.
  • The instructor did some preparatory work with the students, getting them to look at the construction of possible arguments and the names for the counters in the rule booklet. This worked very well and allowed the students to check with their notes if they forgot something.
  • As has been mentioned numerous times with regard to matrix games – the counters available effect the direction that play is taken. While we had a good number of counters that covered many possibilities, after the playtest I would like to add additional counters for emotions, money/wealth and support for one faction or another (Happy, Sad, Fear, Anger, Trust, Police Support, etc.).
  • It proved useful to force the players to describe locations on the map, either descriptively or using the grid system which made the players have to use numbers.

In the event the game went very well and came to a natural conclusion within the 90 minutes allocated. The trial will be extended in the future with more realistic settings (which sadly I shall not be able to share with PAXsims readers).

All the files and the large scale map are available here.

CAFOD’s FLOOD! game

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This isn’t new—FLOOD! was released back in 2014 or so, as part of a larger package of educational resources—but well worth looking at: a game on flood mitigation and emergency response by CAFOD, the official aid agency of the Catholic Church in England and Wales. The game was developed by  Terrorbull Games, an iconoclastic game developer known for War on Terror: The Boardgame, The Hen Commandments (“chicken-based, religion-building party game”), and Crunch (an international finance game for “utter bankers”), among others.

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FLOOD! is nicely put together. Players are faced with having to balance between immediate response actions (evacuating, protecting, or rescuing the affected population, or building flood barriers) and more strategic enabling initiatives (fund-rasing, developing local partnerships, or on-the-ground-assessment). Resources are limited, as is time.

The game comes with a Powerpoint that walks the players through each turn, and a full game can be played in about half an hour. The game is intended for secondary school school audiences aged 13 or older, but—since it is fast and easy to play—could also work well with university or other participants as an ice-breaker or to spark discussion.

You’ll find the game and other educational resources here (CAFOD), and additional information on the game design here (Terrorbull).

For other games that examine floods and similar emergencies, see:

h/t Tom Mouat 

Troubled Lands

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Troubled Lands is a a simple but elegant cooperative, semi-cooperative, or competitive card game that explores the challenges of environmental sustainability. It has been designed by Tom Fennewald and Brent Kievit-Kylar, with artwork by Katherine Jameson.

The Troubled Lands website you’ll find more information, a downloadable print-and-play version of the game, a link to an online digital version, and articles on game development. A printed copy will be available through The Game Crafter later this year.

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Counter IED wargame

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Following Tom Mouat’s release of the components for his recently-design Sandhurst Kriegspiel, Ed Farren (British Army) has put together a quick and simple (60 minute) game to illustrate and explore issues related to countering improvised explosive devices:

The aim of the wargame is not to have clearly defined teams of winners and losers but rather for everyone involved to learn about CIED tactics through both success and failure.

A balanced outcome, where the patrol both avoids and strikes IEDs, is therefore the best for maximum training benefit. The success of the wargame depends on the participation of the players in the teams. You, as the umpire, have a coordinating role but should not be speaking for more than 50% of the time. Let the teams make their own assumptions and judgements on the ability of their assets in the wargame, this will inform if they have understood the actual capabilities/threats that you know to be accurate.

The game uses matrix game-syle adjudication, in which players are asked to identify reasons for and against the success of a particular action. I have certainly found that this approach generates considerable discussion, which is very useful indeed in a learning exercise like this. There is also value in a quick and simple (but not simplistic) game that can easily be incorporated into a larger course while leaving enough time for post-game debrief and reflection.

You’ll find the files here (along with those for Tom’s design).

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Sandhurst Kriegsspiel

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The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst has recently reintroduced manual wargaming into the curriculum—part of a slow renaissance of manual wargaming methods at a few professional military education institutions in the UK, US, and elsewhere.

Tom Mouat has placed the files for the Sandhurst Kriegsspiel online, where they can be viewed and downloaded. The game–conducted in conjunction with a prior TEWT (“tactical exercise without troops”) field visit to the scenario locations—is a relatively simple one, designed to encourage students to think in critical and thoughtful ways about fire, maneuver, terrain, enemy capabilities, commanders intent, and course of action analysis.

The idea is to encourage original thought and a manoeuvrist approach. Students should propose ideas and different approaches to the problem and come to a consensus as to the viability of their ideas. The time for experimentation is in a wargame where they can fail and learn in a safe environment. If you dismiss some wild idea too early, it can have a lasting negative effect on original thought, whereas students coming to their own conclusions whether a novel idea is practical or not, will have lasting benefit.

When considering student actions there are a few guidelines that may be useful:

  • Time and Space. Students frequently believe that actions can be carried out more quickly than is possible – particularly communicating instructions, or designating targets. Their understanding about how quickly personnel cover distance in a combat situation and recover from suppressive fire, it also frequently underestimated.
  • Risk and Evidence. When a student is about to carry out an action that has a chance of failure they should be encouraged to consider the risk and the consequences – and then ways they could mitigate that risk such as using smoke or suppressive fire. When they elect an action with a number of unstated assumptions, such as a section engaging the enemy effectively at 600m they should be challenged as to on what they base their evidence. Have they ever fired at that distance? If so, how good were they? How often will their men have engaged at that range?
  • Realities of War. Finally, students should be reminded of the myriad of smaller things that go wrong with a plan. You are an experience military DS and you can draw analogies from your own experience.

Two platoon-level scenarios are provided.

ExAldershotSkirmishMap

Tom also provides some useful suggestions on how the game should be used to stimulate discussion and learning:

Running the Game

Students should be encouraged to work out any questions they have as to “the rules of the game” among themselves. A Kriegsspiel is simple military common sense and students should feel confident that they could be able to run them themselves unsupervised. If they don’t know things like weapon ranges, they should look them up in their TAM. If they are unfamiliar with enemy weapon systems, they should be encouraged to research them on- line using Wikipedia and other sources (and discuss the reliability and accuracy of such sources).

In some cases students will want to try something that has a significant chance of failure, such as trying to “shoot down a UAV”. A discussion of these types of actions is often very useful. How likely is it that they will succeed? What evidence do they have for that assumption? What is the likely penalty for failure? Attempting to shoot down a competently handled UAV is extremely unlikely and attempting it is likely to give away your position. Alternatively, if you are certain the UAV has spotted you, what have you got to lose?

As a DS [Directing Staff] you should decide the outcome that best meets the training objectives of the session, but in some cases it will not materially affect the overall result. In which case you should suggest that the students “flip a coin” or even “roll a dice” to obtain a result based on their assessment of the likely chance of success – but before you do, ask them if they are comfortable in doing so. If they are happy, they are gambling with their men’s lives – if they are not, they don’t understand the nature of risk. They should be looking at the risk of failure and doing everything in their power to mitigate it – only then should they take the chance.

It is useful for students to gain an understanding of risk at an early stage. Nothing is ever certain in war and if their plan is unable to cope with any setbacks, it is not a robust plan.

The student plans

Following the Kriegsspiel it is always worth asking the Blue Force students how closely their plan in the Kreigsspiel followed the plan they had decided was the best course of action following the TEWT. In almost all cases it is completely different.

When challenged on this, students will normally point to the enemy players and explain it is because they “know our plan”. You should point out that all the students playing the enemy have done is consider the tactical situation from the opposing point of view – so that if the students modified their plan because of this, they had made the assumption that the enemy were incapable of doing so. They are assuming the enemy is stupid.

This latter point in particular underscores a key value of adversarial wargaming: the existence of an adaptive enemy trying to out-think and kill you.

ExEagleStrikeMap

The game will debut at Sandhurst in February 2016.

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UPDATE: The Sandhurst Kriegspiel has generated quite an interesting discussion at BoardGameGaeek on the use of manual wargames in military training and education. You’ll find it here.

 

The BBC’s interactive “Syrian journey”

beirutBBC News today features a short interactive simulation in which the player assumes the role of a Syrian refugee trying to find asylum in Europe:

The Syrian conflict has torn the country apart, leaving thousands dead and driving millions to flee their homes. Many seek refuge in neighbouring countries but others pay traffickers to take them to Europe – risking death, capture and deportation.

If you were fleeing Syria for Europe, what choices would you make for you and your family? Take our journey to understand the real dilemmas the migrants face. This journey is based on extensive research and real stories of Syrians who have made the journey.

It includes links to personal stories, background information, and further discussion on social media. Overall, it is a simple but effective example of how interactive fiction can be used to explore difficult humanitarian challenges in a way that makes them readily understandable to a broader audience.

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