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Virtual AFTERSHOCK on TTS

Thanks to Nicholas Gray, AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game can now be played virtually using Table-Top Simulator‚ which means you and your fellow players can assist the earthquake-affected people of Carana without leaving your home or violating social distance protocols.

In the article below, Nicholas introduces TTS and the basic game controls. We are extremely grateful to him for producing this module. The rules to the game are available as a free download from The Game Crafter.

A VASSAL module is also in development, thanks to the folks at the US Army Command and General Staff College. We will post information on that too when it is finalized.


The game board.

AFTERSHOCK is now available in Table-Top Simulator (TTS).

For those unfamiliar with TTS, it is a board game simulator that can be purchased in Steam for both PC and Mac. There are several excellent videos on YouTube that demonstrate its use in detail, but the following instructions should help to get you started. 

You will need a keyboard and mouse in order to play.

In order to host a game, before launching TTS, search the TTS Steam workshop for Aftershock and select ‘Subscribe’ – this only needs to be done the first time you host. Then launch TTS, choosing either single or multiplayer, open the game folder and load the game.

If you are joining a hosted game then simply launch TTS, choose ‘join’ and search for the hosted server.

Once the game has completely loaded you are ready to play.

To choose a seating position, and thus one of the four agencies, click on your name in the top right hand corner and select a colour.

The following controls should help to get you started. In order to see a full range of TTS controls press the ‘?’ at any time. Note that these controls are for PC use, and although most have equivalents for Mac use they may not be identical.

  • ‘W’, ‘A’, ‘S’, ‘D’ keys will move your viewpoint around the table.
  • The mouse wheel zooms in and out. 
  • Hold the Right Mouse Button (RMB) while moving the mouse to change the elevation and rotate the table.
  • Hover over a game object and hold ‘Alt’ to magnify the object – while ‘Alt’ is pressed you can use the mouse wheel to increase or decrease magnification.
  • To move an object hover over it, then hold the LMB and move the mouse. Release the LMB to drop it at a new location.
  • To select several objects at once use the LMB to draw a box around them, then move as above.
  • When hovering over an object use the RMB to access the object menu. This allows shuffling decks and randomising containers, drawing cards/objects and searching decks/containers for specific items.
  • An alternative way to draw an object from a bag simply hold the LMB while hovering over the bag and pull away. The same is true for decks of cards. However, this requires some timing – LMB and drawing away quickly will draw a single card, but if there is a pause before moving then you will pick up the entire deck. With practice this can become intuitive.
  • The ‘F’ key is used to flip an object. ‘Q’ and ‘E’ will rotate it.
  • To put objects back in containers simply drop them on the containers, and similarly cards can be dropped on decks. These will need to be randomised/shuffled before the next draw if you don’t want the same object to be redrawn.
Problems in District 3!

There are many other controls you can learn to use once these have become familiar, but this will give you enough to play the game.

Nicholas Gray

Two recent wargaming podcasts

A couple of recent podcasts may be of interest to PAXsims readers.


At Controversy and Clarity (the official podcast of the Warfighting Society), Eric Walters discusses the value of wargaming:

• Wargames and the different ways to define them
• The trouble with the term “games”
• How Eric got into wargaming
• How wargaming led Eric to study all kinds of military history
• Eric’s thoughts on wargames as teaching tools for grade schoolers
• The many benefits of wargaming
• How wargames and reading helped Eric understand “the why” of doctrine, enemy tactics and organizations, and maneuver warfare
• How we should be wary of using games as a means of evaluating Marines as combat leaders
• Eric’s reaction to the explosion of interest in and acceptance of wargames in the Department of Defense
• Some recent wargame developments in the Army and Marine Corps
• Eric’s thoughts on General Berger’s focus on wargaming
• Eric’s experiences running wargames in the fleet as a company-grade officer
• How well the Marine Corps taught decision-making during Eric’s time as a young officer
• On the power of being supported by your superiors
• Eric’s thoughts on professional military education (PME) and what “professional” means to him
• What good PME looks like
• The need for one-on-one coaching in PME with accomplished masters
• The dangers of self-directed PME
• The need for study in the absence of experience
• The role formal schools should play in PME
• Eric’s thoughts on “lifelong learning”
• The coaches Eric has had over his career and life
• The value of belonging to a community of practice
• American Military University’s influence on Eric
• How decision games help build trust
• Eric’s approach to building PME programs while on active duty and the results of those programs
• What is critical thinking?
• Some critical thinking models and resources that Eric uses
• The relationship between decision games and critical thinking
• Eric’s admonition to Marines to remain relevant and take a long view of future threats


Meanwhile, at the CNA Talks podcast (episode 63), Samantha Hay and Cate Lea discuss wargaming too.

On this episode of CNA Talks Samantha Hay, CNA’s newest wargamer, sits down with Cate Lea, CNA’s most experienced wargamer. They discuss the process of designing a wargame and CNA’s role in the broader wargaming community. 

Catherine Lea directs CNA gaming efforts on Asia-Pacific operations and U.S. installation support. She is an expert on Japanese security policy and U.S. base politics in Japan. Her field work at CNA includes assignments at Amphibious Group Two, U.S. Fleet Forces, and three years in Yokohama, Japan, providing analytical support to U.S. Navy commands.

Samantha Hay is a research analyst with CNA’s Operational Warfighting Division. Prior to joining CNA, Samantha served as a senior research analyst with the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), where she analyzed US security assistance efforts in Afghanistan.

Wargaming from home

The following piece was contributed to PAXsims by Dr. Jeremy Sepinsky, Lead Wargame Designer at CNA. The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent the official policy or position of any agency, organization, employer or company.


Professional wargaming is a critical tool in support of the safety and security of our nation. The technique is used regularly and often to help senior leaders align priorities, test courses of action, educate civilians and warfighters, and refine decision making. Regardless of the side you fall on the recent debates, we all agree that wargaming is important to the nation, that it needs to be done, and that it needs to be done well. Most serious gaming is done in-person and there is evidence of substantial value in this approach. Title 10 games routinely gather hundreds of participants for a week-long event. The CDC would still consider this unwise. While the defense industrial base is typically exempt from restrictions on gathering, many organizations are simply practicing good stewardship and postponing or cancelling wargames and supporting events. Social distancing efforts also make it hard to engage even in informal face-to-face gaming on a much smaller scale. So what do wargamers and their players do when governments restrict travel and even public gatherings due to the spread of the novel coronavirus, while they wait until normal operations can resume? Other authors have discussed how COVID-19 is impacting military training and exercises, as well as some of the solutions in place to bridge the gap. Here, I’d like to discuss some of the commercial games and wargames that can offer all of us – wargamers, warfighters, and analysts – some professional development while we physically distance ourselves. And perhaps some online games can bridge the physical gap and allow some productive socialization.

Of course, there is no substitute for professional wargames. The commercial games discussed here won’t give you the detailed, immersive, and educational experience that a professional wargame would have. These are, after all, designed for enjoyment, not training or analysis. However, these games can help develop operational and strategic thinking skills, contribute to professional military education by supplementing rigorous study, training, and practice, and help generate ideas to use in designing professional games.

With that in mind, I reached out to many of my professional wargaming colleagues and asked for their suggestions on wargames and board games that can be played either solo or virtually (online or by email). Since planning real military operations from home is typically frowned upon, we focus on commercial wargames that have professional development value for war planners and tacticians.

Electronic Gaming

While playing wargames electronically loses some of the tactile and social parts of the game, playing wargames remotely is certainly not new. Several game engines exist (both free and paid) to help facilitate that play. Many of the games referenced below might be available on these platforms.

VASSAL is a free, open-source application (for Mac OS, Windows, or Linux) that distant (or socially distant) players can use to play digital versions of board wargames against each other, either in real time over the internet or asynchronously by recording moves and exchanging them via email. There are downloadable VASSAL modules for more than a thousand published wargames and other strategy games available, including virtually all of the game releases of very recent years from many of the leading commercial wargame publishers such as MMP and GMT (but at least one of the players must own a copy of the physical game). VASSAL replicates the visual and intellectual experience of playing the boardgames, and even in normal times is a useful way to overcome not only an absence of face-to-face opponents but also the time-and-space challenges of setting up and playing games that are very large or very long. Playing VASSAL games by email can be particularly appealing for studious players who enjoy being able to wrestle with difficult tactical or strategic choices at length without trying the patience of an opponent across the table. (Karl P. Mueller, Political Scientist, RAND Corporation)

Tabletop Simulator (Berserk Games, 2015) – This does exactly what it advertises.  Available on gaming platforms like Steam, Tabletop Simulator (TTS) gives you the tools you need to recreate a multi-player physical game in a virtual environment. Standard game components such as playing cards, dice, chips, and other tokens are readily available to include into your game.  You can also upload your own graphics to create custom pieces, boards, and maps.  The Lua programming language can be used to create scripts to support game mechanics but is by no means necessary.  The built in physics engine lets you treat your game components like physical pieces so you do not have to create scripts to replicate game rules.  The best part of the physics engine though, is that it lets you flip the table when you rage quit. A large variety of boardgames are already programed and available in the game. The focus of this platform (and similarly Board Game Arena) is typically on commercial board games as opposed to wargame, but these can still have substantial value for strategists (Mr. Hyong Lee, Senior Policy Analyst, Center for Applied Strategic Learning, National Defense University)

Steam is an online digital game distribution platform, hosting thousands of online games of various genres. Unsurprisingly, wargames are a popular category, which includes titles like the Total War series, Command: Modern OperationsArmor Brigade, and Flashpoint Campaigns. Due to advanced computing, digital wargames can incorporate a wide-range of factors such as weather, terrain, and morale, while maintaining accessible gameplay. Furthermore, by leveraging robust AI programs, digital wargames present increasingly robust and rich challenges, even in solo play. Some staunch traditionalists may disparage digital wargames as graphically appealing, yet substantively lacking. This may be true for some, but it is an unfair characterization for the entire genre. Admittedly, commercial wargames are no substitute for serious, well-researched wargames. However, when used correctly and under the right circumstances, commercial digital wargames can provide utility. For instance, Ben Jensen, a professor at the Marine Corps University, has demonstrated the value of Flashpoint Campaigns in educational wargaming. Likewise, Command: Professional Edition can be found in professional military courses on planning, operations, and wargaming. The appeal of these digital wargames lies in their distributed capability, customizable scenarios, and ease of access. (Sebastian J. Bae, Defense Analyst, RAND Corporation)

Rule the Waves 2 (Naval Warfare Simulations, 2019) – At the other end of the computer gaming spectrum from Command: Modern operations (CMO), in a host of ways, is Rule the Waves 2. It covers the timeframes between 1900 and 1950, so ends where CMO starts and uses an interface and graphics style more out of Microsoft Access than a Maritime Operations Center. But the good news is, if you are a professional Naval analyst, you will probably feel right at home! While it allows you to fight tactical battles from throughout the period, it puts you in the role of not just the Admiral in command of a fleet in a MahanianDecisive Battle, but also that of Fleet Architect. Make technology investment decisions, set engagement doctrine, then test them in Fleet Exercises. Your Government may make demands to build certain ship classes, despite their obsolescence, and events can cause tensions between nations to rise and fall. If you do go to war, you will face the old adage “you fight with the fleet you have, not the one you want”, stretched thin by requirements to deploy forces to areas across the globe. It has a fair learning curve, and is graphically austere, but with some suspension of disbelief it is a terrific sandbox for would be naval technology innovators! (Paul Vebber (https://www.linkedin.com/in/paul-vebber-a16b6936)

Manual Gaming

A Distant Plain, 3rd Printing (GMT Games, 2018) – Designed by two prominent and prolific wargame designers, Volko Ruhnke and Brian Train, A Distant Plain is a card-driven game (CDG) counter-insurgency (COIN) wargame. Players must navigate the dangerous and shifting power structures of modern-day Afghanistan. Building on the game engine from Andean Abyss, players must leverage unique capabilities and stratagems to pursue their individual goals. Reflective of the wider COIN series, players must make difficult choices with limited resources in a dynamic strategic environment. Normally accommodating four players, A Distant Plain also provides a solitaire mode where a procedural artificial intelligence, in the form of logic flowcharts, simulates the non-player factions. To those new to the COIN series, the game may seem daunting to learn and master. However, A Distant Plain and the rest of the COIN series provides a vibrant and rich gaming experience, reflected by its widespread commercial following. It is also important to note that GMT Games offers several wargames with solitaire modes, such as Pericles: The Peloponnesian Wars and Empire of the Sun, 3rd Printing. Furthermore, Labyrinth: The War on Terror, a CDG about global Islamic jihad, has an early access version available on Steam(Sebastian J. Bae, Defense Analyst, RAND Corporation)

Agricola (Z-man Games, Inc, 2007) – Not every professional development game needs to be about war. Agricola is a worker placement and resource management Eurogame. The rules are fairly simple, but the strategy is complex. Players are working a medieval family farm, balancing the need to crops, livestock, and other resources. The game has a set number of turns, and, to be competitive, players need to begin optimizing their strategy from the very start. As the game progresses, players are forced to choose between a lot of bad options (including the ability to make other player’s options even worse). This is best for people looking to practice long-term strategic thinking as well as how to balance in-the-moment decisions that may derail their plan. It can be played solo as well as online. (Jeremy Sepinsky, Lead Wargame Designer, CNA Corporation)

Algeria: The War of Independence 1954-1962 (Fiery Dragon Productions, 2006) – This is a grand operational – strategic game of the insurgency-counter insurgency war prosecuted by France against the National Liberation Front (FLN) forces in its colony of Algeria.  Highly abstracted, it focuses on most of the military, economic, intelligence, and information aspects found in this type of conflict.  While the hearts and minds of the Algerian population play a role, of more importance is the sustainment of French popular support as the FLN attempts to manipulate the French willingness to prosecute the war.  The mechanics are sufficiently detailed to permit the examination of several different strategic approaches to both insurgency and counter-insurgency (see Bard O’Neill ‘Insurgency and Terrorism: From Revolution to Apocalypse’).  Algeria is available as a VASSALmodule for remote play. (Mike Ottenberg, Military Operations Research Society Wargame Community of Practice)

Close Action (Clash of Arms Games, Mark Campbell, designer, 1997) – Close Action is a game of tactical naval combat in the Age of Sail (1740-1815).  Each ship in a battle is represented by an individual counter (or ship model if you prefer) and a hex grid is used to regulate movement and combat between ships.  Rules cover ship sailing performance, gunnery combat, boarding actions, and the influence of skill and morale upon combat outcomes. Each player commands one or more ships and secretly plots their moves before each game turn, which represents 200 seconds of real time.  Moves are revealed simultaneously, ships are moved, and then the players direct them where to fire.  The hex grid and the plotted moves make Close Action an ideal game to play by email—players simply send in their moves before each game turn, to a referee or to each other, then resolve moves and direct and conduct gunfire according to the rules.  Ship moves can be tracked and presented to players with photo images or using purpose-designed software (like VASSAL).  Play by email allows players from literally anywhere to play in a game.  Where Close Action really shines, however, is in its command, control, and communication rules, which simulate the signaling limitations of ships from its era.  The rules limit communication between players on a side to messages of a few words each game turn.  Players must write messages before a turn and then deliver them only at the end of the turn, thus causing their information to decay and potentially creating confusion in the minds of their recipients.  If a game is played with one player per ship, which is facilitated by email play, players can experience the confusion (and frustration!) that occurred in historical battles.  In this respect, Close Action can be a valuable tool—even while we’re sheltering in place—for teaching players about the impact of command, control, and communication limitations on tactical combat. (Sean Barnett, Senior Engineer, RAND Corporation)

Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! (Academy Games, 2012, 2nd Edition) –  Conflict of Heroes is a historical WWII Eastern European Theater wargame taking place at the squad level.  Its scenarios start out very simple and gradually add complexity to include vehicles, hidden movement, and artillery.  The player must make use of limited command resources to coordinate the movements and actions of the ground units.  While initially designed for two players, single player experiences abound.  As a means of learning basic rules, combat tactics, and game mechanics, a single player can develop and try out strategies on their own for many of the game’s missions.  More importantly, the 2nd Edition is supplemented by a Solo Expansion as well as a random Firefight Generator which allows continual single player experiences against an AI adversary.  The games AI system is based on core principles of agent based modelling and provides a good tactical challenge. A more recent 3rd edition reimplements and simplifies the ruleset, but is thus not directly compatible with the solo expansions.  (Johnathan Proctor, Analyst, Joint Staff)

Dunn-Kempf (John Curry, lulu.com, 2008) – Dunn-Kempf is a professional miniatures wargame that was used to train and educate US Army military officers from the mid-1970s until the early 1990s.  Each alternating turn represents 30 seconds of combat.  Players maneuver single vehicles or stands of infantry representing fire teams on a terrain table where one inch equals 50 meters.  Direct fires, indirect fires, and other systems such as mines are adjudicated using pre-determined combat results tables using dice to represent the random effects of combat.  All elements of the game system are based in the weapons, tactics, techniques, and procedures used during that era.  Although there is no computer assisted version of this game, a play by e-mail MAPEX using PowerPoint and standard military tactical symbols is readily available for our current environment.  (Mike Ottenberg, Military Operations Research Society Wargame Community of Practice)

Enduring Freedom: US Operations in Afghanistan  (Ambush Alley Games, 2011) – Published as Issue #30 of Modern War (July-August 2017) this is a solitaire wargame of the invasion of Afghanistan following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Components include a sheet of 176 cardboard counters, a 22” x 34” map sheet and a 16-page rulebook. The player controls Coalition forces including brigades, battalions, FOBs, and air strikes (US, NATO, and the Northern Alliance). The game system controls opposing Islamist units and leaders  (Al Qaeda, Taliban, and Pakistani volunteers). The map is divided into regions that contain desert or mountain terrain, major cities, “Strongholds,” “Jihadi Centers” and airbases. The game objective is for the Coalition to destroy Al Qaeda and establish a stable Afghan government. The game covers October 2001 (initial US invasion) to March 2002 (conclusion of Operation Anaconda).  The complex sequence of play is organized according to doctrinal staff functions:  J-1 (Mobilization and Refit), J-2 (Information operations and intelligence), J-3 (Operations), J-4 (Sustainment), and J-5 (Civil-Military). This is a good example of solitaire wargame design for a contemporary joint Operational-level conflict at a fairly abstract level. (Michael Markowitz, Senior Research Specialist, CNA)

Foreign Legion Paratrooper (Decision Game, 2020) – This solitaire wargame is published as Issue #46 of Modern War (March – April 2020). Components include a sheet of 176 cardboard counters, a 22” x 34” map sheet and a 16-page rulebook. The player faces randomly generated crisis contemporary and near-future interventions in Africa and the Middle East, deploying platoon-sized ground and air units from a strategic display to mission maps (variously scaled at 500 meters to 5 km per hex) in desert, jungle, urban, mountain or oilfield terrain. A turn represents anything from 12 hours to a week.  A series of missions can be linked into an extended campaign game.  Possible missions include hostage rescue, counter terrorist operations, capture of high-value targets, and WMD interdiction, against randomly generated opposing forces.  The game system emphasizes planning and logistics, (factors often neglected in hobby wargames) using expenditure of “operations points” for various game functions. The game provides useful insight into the combat capabilities and limitations of modern French forces.  (Michael Markowitz, Senior Research Specialist, CNA)

Hornet Leader: Carrier Air Operations (Dan Verssen Games (DVG), 2010) – The entire library of DVG single player wargames provides isolated tabletop tacticians and strategists alike with a series of options spanning history.  Hornet Leader focuses on modern carrier air combat spanning from the first Gulf War in 1992 to modern day Syria. Players commit to an air campaign at both the squadron and flight tactical levels.  At the squadron level, players must select and manage a roster of aircrew and assets across multiple missions while selecting and prosecuting targets.  Since no plan survives contact, each mission includes random events that can change the adversary order of battle, impact available tactics and resources, or (rarely) provide an advantage to the player.  The ruleset is simple enough for beginners, but different campaign settings and associated resource limitations will provide difficult decision challenges for experts as well.  Additional titles that focus on Army and Air Force aviation include Thunderbolt Apache Leader and Phantom Leader respectively, which use similar setups and rulesets. (Johnathan Proctor, Analyst, Joint Staff)

Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game (Fantasy Flight Games, 2017) – Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) combines the decision-making in the face of uncertainty inherent in card games with a wargame set in a magical version of the Sengoku Period of Japanese  history. Players build and pilot decks from one of seven clans, each with a different theme. Some clans seek to quickly overrun opponents and break provinces militarily while others focus on controlling the political arena and slowly wearing down the honor of the opponent. Most games take roughly an hour to play. During gameplay, players must balance their resources across multiple phases; these decisions include playing more characters or playing specific actions. As in many card games, some of the information is revealed on the board to all players while other information is secretly held in each player’s hand. This game can be played online and is recommend for players who enjoy games with partial information and tradeoffs that effect future turns. (Justin Peachey, Research Scientist, CNA Corporation)

Napoleon, the Waterloo Campaign (4th edition Columbia Games, 2013) – This is a relatively uncomplicated wargame but one that employs wooden blocks rather than cardboard counters to represent the military units involved in the campaign. This physical system design easily introduces uncertainty and deception into play because the opposing players cannot see the real identity of opposing units until they engage in combat. Furthermore, the blocks allow easy implementation of a step-reduction system, allowing units to become attrited in combat while preventing the opponent from knowing which units have been damaged the most. The third major element of the game system is the use of point-to-point movement. Forces move between locations connected by roads and the capacity of the roads constrains how many units you can move from one town to another during a turn. This game is one of a handful of truly revolutionary designs, created in 1972 and spawning and entirely new genre of block games. It has much to teach professional wargamers. The mechanisms and components of the game are the most obvious innovations but there is far more to learn here. Perhaps most important lesson is the fundamental change in player perspective that the reduced information creates. Although not a complete “fog of war,” it is at least misty out there. But the game is also an object lesson in revolutionary innovation. It took the old paradigm of cardboard counters openly displayed on a hex grid and completely changed the model. The block-game model is of great interest, even today, for those trying to find a balance between the perceived (though often overstated) unreality of open, Igo-Hugo (i.e., “I go, then you go”) game systems and the perceived (though often questionable) realism of “double-blind” and simultaneous games. Not to mention the fundamental synthetic experience it creates by challenging players to devise a winning strategic approach and translate it into an effective operational plan. Napoleon can be played easily in person with or without a referee to create even more fog of war, or by using email- or text-based play using a referee to manage things. Unfortunately, there appear to be no dedicated resources for automated online play. (Peter Perla, Principal Research Scientist, CNA Corporation)

Pandemic (Z-man Games, Inc, 2008) – Pandemic is a family-friendly cooperative game where players together try to cure four different diseases while simultaneously controlling outbreaks around the world. It can serve as a very basic introduction to cooperative game mechanics and the types of conversations (and arguments) that a cooperative game may generate. While the topic is particularly timely in the age of COVID-19, the decisions have little bearing on how countries and international actors would deal with a real-life pandemic. Rigid rule-based games such as this have explicit connections between player actions and game effects, whereas serious games often serve as a mechanism to prompt real-world actors to figure out who needs to coordinate and when. That said, it is fun to play, and can certainly be considered part of your research into pandemic gaming. Pandemic may be also be played solo or on the iPhone/iPad. (Yuna Huh Wong, Policy Research, RAND Corporation)

Single Player Games – The ranks of purely or primarily solitaire board wargames that merit the attention of serious students of military affairs have grown remarkably in the past 15 years—John H. Butterfield alone has produced more than half a dozen during that time. Among the least conventional recent solitaire wargames, Brien J. Miller’s Silent War is an innovative and attractively-rendered simulation of the Allied submarine campaign against Japan. It captures WWII’s evolving and attritional nature in a level of detail that some players find highly immersive and others tedious, as the solo Allied player tries to sink millions of tons of shipping tracked in thousand-ton increments. (The sequel, Steel Wolves, does the same for the even larger WWII U-boat war against Britain.) The Fields of Fire games, by game designer and career U.S. Marine officer Ben Hull, simulate infantry combat at the company level from 1944 to Vietnam.  Fields of Fire uses a unique card-based system that illuminates things about small-unit combat that no other tactical boardgame has done, and has made some players fall out of love with better-known games that treat the topic more cinematically. Both series reward spending substantial time exploring them—one takes a long time to play and the other has rules that are challenging to master—so they might be just right for a period of prolonged social isolation. (Karl P. Mueller, Political Scientist, RAND Corporation)

Space Alert (Czech Games Edition, 2008)  – Decision-making under conditions of time constraint and uncertainty, while fostering teamwork, quick communication, and mental agility have become stock phrases associated with professional wargaming. Investment in professional wargaming centers that can put large groups through their paces in realistic scenarios developing these skills are in great demand and offer our warfighters crucial opportunities to hone those skills. But if you are a small group, sequestered from such facilities, or not lucky enough to get invites at all, fear not! You can get a taste of what those events are like in microcosm with this little gem of a game. Using Sci Fi tropes similar to computer games like Starship Artemis, players form a team in the roles of starship crewmen. They must face challenges from attacking aliens to defend the ship, and inevitably, repair it when damaged. The hook that draws you into the game is a set of 10 min audio files. These can be played on a CD or downloaded for your phone – the scripts are available to be read aloud if you need to save your tech for the real-world calamity! Between these encounters, you “jump to hyperspace” and can reset some aspects of the game to prepare for the next time you drop out into a new situation. It takes a few playings to get the mechanics down, but when players get in the flow of the game, its easy to picture yourself in a much higher stakes situation than a board game on your conference or dining room table. (Paul Vebber (https://www.linkedin.com/in/paul-vebber-a16b6936)

Star Wars Rebellion (Fantasy Flight Games, 2016) – Rebellion is an epic game of hide-and-seek set in the Star Wars universe while fully incorporating the DIME (Diplomatic, Informational, Military, and Economic).  Diplomatic: Both Rebels and Imperials must convince unaligned systems to join their cause.  Informational: The Rebels have a hidden base, which the Empire is trying to find.  Military: Like most games with Star Wars, there is an emphasis on the war: the game includes both land- and ship-based combat.  Economic: To continue fighting (i.e., building more units, possibly replacing lost ones) both sides have to increase their production capabilities weighed against their ability to produce those units in a useful, timely fashion.  Additionally, the Empire has its own set on monstrous projects (e.g., the Death Star) which it must separately balance.  All of this is within a move-economy determined by the number of leaders each side has (and how effectively the player uses them).  Rebellion pits two players (or two teams) against in each other in asymmetric play ranging from the Strategic to Tactical, while fully incorporating DIME. (Nolan Noble, Research Data Scientist, CNA Corporation)

The Waterloo Campaign, 1815 (C3i Magazine, 2019) – This is a recent edition to the canon (or is that cannon?) of Waterloo games. While its mechanisms are relatively uncomplicated, so too are those of chess. Indeed, in many ways the game plays in a very chesslike way. As with chess, this is a two-sided, open-information contest in which the players alternate moving one of their small number of pieces—around 20 for each side—until one or both players choose to stop. One of the unique aspects of play is that pieces are not limited to a single movement or attack each half-day game turn, but rather can be pushed as far as the player may wish until coming into close contact with the enemy. It is a system based on the same design-production team’s earlier Gettysburg game. The biggest differences from that earlier game have to do with implementing the different realities of Napoleonic warfare when compared to the U.S. Civil War. Primary among these are the operational and battlefield roles of cavalry and the effects of elite units such as Napoleon’s Imperial Guard, as well as the Emperor’s penchant for massing a Grand Battery of Artillery to pound his opponent’s line. Unlike the Columbia version of the campaign, the players of The Waterloo Campaign, 1815 can see all the opposing forces on a standard hexagon map but maneuvering those forces is tricky because units must slow down as they approach the enemy and become fixed in place if they intend to attack them. It is a different view of strategy and an unusual form of game play. Its new ideas—and new implementation of old ideas—offer the professional wargamer both new tools and fresh inspiration. The small number of playing pieces belies the depth of game play. Although a short playing time of 60 to 90 minutes is claimed by the designer, my experience is that careful players, using chess-like care, can extend the duration to twice that. As of this writing there appear to be no electronic versions of the game available. However, the small number of pieces and alternating action make it an easy game to play using email or text chat. (Peter Perla, Principal Research Scientist, CNA Corporation)

Twilight Imperium (Fantasy Flight Games, 2017) – Twilight Imperium is a complex wargame. The rules are very involved and a game can take 8 or more hours with the maximum number of players. Each player controls one of seventeen different unique factions. While all factions use the same set of units, each faction may use them differently. The game board varies each playthrough as players build the galaxy they are conquering during the first phase of play. During the main portion of the game, all factions compete to achieve ten victory points. The first player to do so wins the game. Gameplay often involves tradeoffs between attacking other players to gain more territory, building more units to attack and defend territory already owned, and taking actions to gain victory points. This game is recommended for people who want to experience the role of setting and implementing a grand strategy and altering said strategy in the event of contact with an enemy. It can be played online, but not solo. (Justin Peachey, Research Scientist, CNA Corporation)

Afghanistan gaming assets

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Although many people face lockdown due to COVID-19, there is still a requirement to carry out low-level wargaming training for the military. As a result I have made some contemporary Afghanistan assets (tokens, buildings, vehicles, etc) as transparent PNG files that you can use for free to run skirmish/RPG level games, using Roll20, Google Slides, or something similar.

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Roll20 is a browser-based suite of tools that allows users to create and play tabletop role playing games, and is available free in the basic version, with a paid for version offering additional functionality. Alternatively, you can create a shared collaborative environment using Google Slides, where all participants can access the environment at the same time, alongside a video chat application like Google Hangouts or Skype.

Included in the files is an overview map of a fictitious  location in Afghanistan, and a terrain background on which to place the assets.

 

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Review: Intervention!

Review of: Intervention! Stone Paper Scissors, 2020. £15.99

Intervention0.pngIntervention! is a game of fictional great power intervention in the modern era, designed for 17-28 players (with a control team of four). It is playable in 2-4 hours.

This is a megagame about major power intervention in a regional conflict in the early 21st Century. Silvania has severe internal problems, marked particularly by a major rebellion in the south. The important port city of Warren Falls has been taken over by the rebels, and in order to oust them, and restore order, the Silvania Government has asked the aid of a powerful modern nation, Freedonia.

In this game the players will be either on the side of the Government and its interventionist friend trying to restore the status quo, or on the side of the rebels seeking to hold on to some hard-won independence, self-determination and freedom of religion.

Gameplay focusses on planning for and carrying out the battle for control of the city, whilst trying to stay ahead politically and avoid causing too much collateral damage.

Negotiation, resource allocation and good communication all feature heavily.

This is an entry-level megagame, for a relatively small group of players. Simple and easy to understand this makes a good start for anyone wishing to experience megagames for the first time

The game is designed by Jim Wallman, the guru of megagaming, and is received a set of downloadable pdfs comprising rules, briefings, maps, action cards, displays, counters, role badges, and everything else required to run the game. The purchaser is responsible for printing these.

INT Main Map

The contested port of “Warren Falls” (or “Freeport,” if you’re a radical Daftist), looking suspiciously like Folkestone, albeit with a Buddhist Temple located in the grounds of the Parish Church of St Mary & St Eanswythe. 

As the summary above notes, the game pits two coalitions against each other: the Silvanian government and its powerful Freedonian allies, versus the Separatist movement and radical Kippists (of Determination And Freedom Today, or DAFT). However, coalition politics is a challenge for all sides, and not all interests fully align. Even within a single team the challenge of coordination is substantial, with the political and military echelons needing to work together, and the various military commanders needing to agree on an operational plan and synchronize their actions. This sort of player-driven, semi-controlled/semi-chaos is what megagames are all about.

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Teams must manage their resources carefully: Ammunition (necessary to attack), Action Points (necessary to move, and conduct other actions), and various Special Action Cards. The game uses simultaneous movement, based on Order Cards that the various military players submit at the start of the turn. Combat outcomes are based on the combat scores of the two sides, and resolved by a Results Card. Some units are more reliable, and have higher combat values, than others.

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The Political Support Track of each side is essential to victory. This is affected by casualties, causing damage to (or fixing) civilian infrastructure, military victories, and control of key locations in the city. The lower the level of political support a side has, the fewer resources it will receive each turn. If it reaches zero, they begin to disengage.

The rules, displays, and various cards are all very clear and easy to understand. While the rules run to 19 pages, most of this is explanation and examples and could easily be briefed to players in 15 minutes or so. The various team briefings each are between 8 and 15 pages in length, consisting of political background and a description ofthe various roles and assets.

All-in-all, Intervention! is an excellent introduction to megagaming—and a very considerable bargain for the price. Having mastered the basics, it would be relatively easy to scale up, add complexity, or use this as a jumping off point to designing your own megagames.

Aplatir la courbe

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Antoine Bourguilleau has developed a French translation and adaptation of Tim Price’s Flattening the Curve COVID-19 matrix game. In this revised version of the game, the UK and US actors are replaced by France and Germany.

Aplatir la Courbe contains an overview of the pandemic, guidance on running a matrix game, and briefings sheets for the major actors. For other game materials—notably the game display and markers—download the original (UK) version.

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

WHO COVID-19 training exercise

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The World Health Organization has made available a simulation exercise on COVID-19.

To support countries’ preparedness effort on the COVID-19  outbreak, WHO`s Department of Health Security and Preparedness has developed various COVID-19  tabletop exercise (SimEx) packages. This includes:

  1. A Generic Covid19 SimEx to examine and strengthen existing plans, procedures and capabilities to manage an imported case of 2019-nCov and targets the health authorities at the national level.
  2. A Health facility & IPC SimEx that is based on the Core Components of Infection Prevention and Control Programmes at the National and Acute Care Facility Level.
  3. A Point of Entry (POE) SimEx to examine and strengthen existing plans, procedures and capabilities at the main airport (POE).

The simulation package consists of different elements including:

  • PowerPoint presentations to support the facilitation of the exercise and its subsequent debriefing
  • A participants’ guide and a facilitators’ guide to explain what is expected from the different people involved in the preparation and running of the exercise.
  • A set of reference documents and technical guidance on 2019-nCov

The package highlights clearly where some minor adaptions are needed to make the simulation country-specific and more relevant to the participants.


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

Engle: COVID-19 hospital matrix gaming ideas

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Chris Engle, the inventor of matrix gaming, has passed on some ideas for a COVID 19 general hospital simulation. We are pleased to post them below.

The world is facing a pandemic. It is testing our systems to the extreme. Maximizing utilization of resources is all important. This requires the following.

  • Effective intelligence
  • Pre-planning
  • Pre-deployment of resources
  • Public policy to slow the spread of the illness
  • Maintenance of public order
  • Distribution of goods and services
  • Medical treatment as needed
  • Maintenance of front line essential workers
  • Evaluation of effectiveness and alteration of intervention
  • Data-based decision making on when to return to normal

It is a highly complicated situation that is in a constant state of flux. Simulating this in a timely meaningful way is a huge challenge.

What follows is a simple, inexpensive, easily run, quick to initiate simulation that might be helpful. The game is about a general hospital in a moderate sized city in Middle America: imagine it being in a city of 100 to 250 thousand people. Or it might be in one district of a much larger city. The players are healthcare providers, administrators, and other stakeholders. The game consists of play sessions of around 10 participants each engaging problems and solutions, and the problems that flow from them. Sessions last between 30 tp 120 minutes and can be done by phone, video, email, or in person. The game requires a facilitator/moderator/host who does not have to be an expert. Their job is to encourage people to participate.

The Matrix Game

General Hospital is run using a Matrix Game. This is a type of game that uses words and discussion rather than numbers and mathematical algorithms to track what happens, The approach has been used since the 1980’s as a planning/training tool in a variety of fields. Chris Engle, a psychiatric social worker, invented Matrix Games in 1988. Games consist of players making statements about what they think happens next in a given situation. They are narrating events, which they make up out of their imagination. The session is a conversation between participants. The outcome of sessions is a list of brainstormed problems and solutions, with some indication about which ones are more or less likely to happen. The complete rules of the game are as follows’ The host of the event starts the session by stating a problem. They then ask the players “What happens next?” The host then allows the players to speak. The host’s remaining job is to encourage people to speak, to recap what is said, to help players through the technical rules, to occasionally re-ask the question, and to wrap the game up on time. The players make things happen by jumping in as the spirit moves them to say what happens next. This might be an event, a plan, or another problem. Whatever the player says automatically happens, it is part of the story. Other players may jump in and add to this or they may alter it or even say that something else happens instead. These also automatically happen, and overwrite the first statement. If a player says something that people think is unlikely to happen they may ask the player to roll for it. The player must then roll a six sided die. On a roll of 1 to 3, the event does not happen and cannot be repeated in this game. On a roll of 4 to 6 the event does happen and cannot be overwritten, As many players as wish may ask a player to roll and the player must pass each roll to have their event happen. This is evidence or how unlikely people believe certain moves are.

The game ends when the starting problem is solved or when the players run out of time.

Dice rolls are never required and it is not uncommon for there to be sessions without any rolls. The ideas that players come up with will range far from their areas of responsibility and expertise. They will identify problems and interventions that touch on society at large. Some input will even be silly and fantastical. All this is allowed because with each statement, the players open up a little more which makes it possible for them to speak and share incites that will help. To this end, it is helpful for top leaders to say little or nothing in games since they may overly influence participants.

Debriefing

It is vitally important for time be given after each session for the players to talk about and summarize what they learned. This cements lessons. This can be done by the players talking to one another or by the game host recapping events and highlighting the important points. These recaps should then be passed back to the administrators and decision makers who sponsored the event so they can make use of the intelligence for planning purposes.

Participants

Any health professional or stakeholder in decision making can usefully participate in Matrix Game sessions. They do not need any simulation expertise or area knowledge beyond what they already have. All they need to know before the event is that they are going to participate in a low key, planning meeting that will give them deeper knowledge of the big picture of the present problem and how they fit into it.

Using Technology

Matrix Games are usually played in face to face sessions. But they work just as well as email/text messages. They also work in phone meetings or video conferences. The medium is unimportant, and because the game consists of conversations between players, there is no need for expensive computer programs or equipment. This approach can be implemented in a high tech city or a village with no paved roads. One advantage of using video or email is the potential to have a record of each game. These records form a data set that can be analyzed at a later date using computational models.

On Use of this Game

Permission is granted for any person, institution, or company to use this game and the Matrix Game approach in general for planning and training purposes. The only request is that they cite that Matrix Games were invented by Chris Engle in 1988. Please pass this document onto any and all people you know who might be helped by it.

Note for Facilitators

People are naturally shy when it comes to making things up. It is helpful to start the game by asking each player to say one thing that people in their role would do in the face of the presenting problem. Once that is done the ice is broken and the host can take a more backseat approach.

The facilitator is responsible for establishing and maintaining a good work environment. If players engage in abusive or intimidating behavior, it is the facilitator’s job to intervene and establish order. There can be no useful work accomplished without a good working environment. It is okay for participants to say little or nothing is a game. When they do this they are being the audience. They still learn from the event and may come up with the most useful observations during debriefing because they were looking at it in a bigger picture way.

The facilitator does not have to be an expert in technical subject matter. It is perfectly acceptable and expected that they will not know certain details. This allows them to model how to ask questions and listen to answers. The facilitator does need to be an outward going person who will engage the players actively. Aside from encouraging people, the facilitator is also a player. But they need to not take too much role in the game so that they do not unduly influence play. The facilitator needs to gather up all materials from the game and return them to the administrator who sponsored the event. This may involve writing a short report.

Lastly, end sessions promptly. Make certain there is time to do debriefing within the time of the meeting. Healthcare worker are very busy, especially now, and will appreciate meetings that end on time. Overstepping their time will reduce how much they take away from it. A good opening problem to start a game is: “The coronavirus is coming. We need to deal with it. How do we prevent a disaster?”

Chris Engle


PAXsims offers substantial resources on various matrix games, including the Flattening the Curve matrix game scenario, game icons (if you are using physical displays), and the Matrix Game Construction Kit.

See also our COVID-19 serious gaming resources page.

C3i Magazine: COVID-19 Scenario for Pandemic

While the board game Pandemic makes no claim to be a serious game, it can certainly is the most popular game ever on the subject of epidemic disease. Now, courtesy of C3i Magazine,  there is a scenario available that allows you to adapt the game to play the current COVID-19 pandemic.

C3i Magazine is proud to present Trevor Bender’s COVID-19 Scenario for the strategy boardgame1366004204.jpg Pandemic

The scenario introduces a new Action – Social Distancing – which allows players to explore the costs and benefits of this activity in a cooperative game environment, perhaps giving additional reason to what we are doing in society during the coronavirus pandemic of 2020

You can download your free copy here.


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

“Flattening the Curve” COVID-19 matrix game

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From deep in his secret social distancing bunker at an undisclosed but secure location, mysterious matrix game guru Tim Price has put together yet another matrix game: Flattening the Curve. This examines the current COVID-19 pandemic, with five players/teams: the UK government, the general population, the World Health Organization, the US government, and “mishaps and markets.” To apply it to any other national case, replace the UK player with your own national government.

The package includes background materials, briefing, and game components. A pandemic timeline is used in place of a map, although you can supplement this with a map if you feel the need to represent localized events or actions. Remember that it is a matrix game, so you are meant to modify for your own purposes!

In addition, PAXsims has put together a a growing list of COVID-19 serious gaming resources, including game icons, examples of other pandemic gaming, and guidelines on “do no harm.” If you want to learn more about matrix games, there is further information available both here at PAXsims and at Tom Mouat’s matrix games webpage. In cooperation with The Game Crafter we have also made the Matrix Game Construction Kit (MGCK) available at cost for professionals involved in pandemic gaming, although you don’t need it to play this or any other matrix game.

MaGCK

Pandemic response game icons

In order to assist the designers of pandemic response serious games, I have compiled and prepared a set of 68 COVID-19 themed game icons. These are available in zipped folders in three graphic formats: jpgs, pngs, and transparent pngs.

We typically use these in conjunction with 25mm or 37mm disks, the latter being the size included in the Matrix Game Construction Kit. These can be formatted for 3/4″ and 1″ Avery labels respectively using Avery’s excellent online design application and label templates. However, you can use them in any way you wish for the purposes of education and scenario analysis relating to the Covid-19 pandemic.

For further resources, see PAXsim’s COVID-19 serious gaming resources page.

Basic Law: a Hong Kong protests matrix game

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From the ever-prolific and always-mysterious Tim Price comes yet another matrix game, this time exploring the current civil protests in Hong King: Basic Law. The game allows for 6 players: the Hong Kong Government, Pro-Democracy Protestors, China, the USA, the UK, and Taiwan. Included is a brief background, briefing materials, basic matrix game rules, a series of maps, and counters. You will find it all here.

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Interested in designing your own matrix games? Check out the Matrix Game Construction Kit (MaGCK).


Please take a minute to complete our PAXsims reader survey.

BEAR RISING matrix game

I would like to thank Dani Fenning of NATO Headquarters Supreme Allied Commander Transformation for making the BEAR RISING briefing materials available to PAXsims readers.

The full description of the scenarios, together with briefing materials and a map, can be found here. The map alone can be found here.

The briefing pack does not include counters or initial set-up—if running a session, use your best judgment as to what needs to be included. Remember that in a matrix game an asset need not be displayed on a map to be used—it need only exist.


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BEAR RISING is a matrix wargame that examines the political and strategic military pre-crisis actions within the Baltic region amid a failing Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty.  Earlier this year NATO Allied Command Operations used BEAR RISING to challenge NATO deterrence planning, strategic thinking and decision making.  Opposing player teams were invited from several external organisations who were subject matter experts in the nations they played, including some more experienced wargamers from US Center for Army Analysis and US Army War College. The game was played over a three day period, with player teams of 2 to 3 in size, beginning a new vignette each day.   Overall, the game met its objectives to challenge NATO’s decision making with deterrence plans and activities, however, one of the unexpected outcomes of the game was the development of a unique narrative through the employment of a white cell “Press Officer” role.  During the game the “Press Officer” supported the development of the narrative by injecting likely media (including social media) and news headlines in direct response to actions made throughout the game.  The vignettes explored three different situations in which NATO nations and Russia faced escalating tension:

  • A Darker Shade of Gray: Ethnic Russian protests in Latvia turn violent because of recent changes to laws regarding language instruction in schools; Russian minority groups in Estonia begin to stage sympathy protests with a widespread social media campaign. Through hybrid tactics Russia seeks to exploit the situation in Latvia to win the narrative and gain popular support.
  • The Islanders: Tensions rise as a NATO vessel returning from a large exercise crashes into a Russian trawler, an unfortunate series of events result in a Russian threat to a NATO partner nation’s territorial integrity in a geo-strategic location.
  • A Bridge Too Far: Social unrest rises as pro-democracy Russian protests against a ‘rigged’ regional election spread across Kaliningrad. Russia demands that Lithuania allows a large-scale deployment of Russian National Guard units via rail. Tensions begin to rise as military postures heighten in the region.

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This War of Mine free at Epic Games

This War of Mine, the game of civilian survival during civil war, is available free from Epic Games until August 2.

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James Sterrett reviewed the game for PAXsims back in November 2014, calling it “remarkably successful at being an engrossing game that involves violence yet avoids making the situation seem remotely appealing” and “my current pick for the best game of 2014.”

 

Forced to Fight

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Forced to Fight is a browser game developed by the Canadian Red Cross (with the support of the ICRC and Global Affairs Canada) to educate youth about international humanitarian law, child soldiers, sexual and gender based violence, and related issues.

About Forced to Fight

The Canadian Red Cross aims to protect the dignity and lives of vulnerable people affected by armed conflict by ensuring respect for International Humanitarian Law (IHL) in Canada and around the world through education, training and advocacy. We organize events across the country to educate Canadians on the importance of IHL and to encourage dialogue on issues such as child soldiers, refugees, sexual and gender-based violence, and attacks on civilians, hospitals and schools. Forced to Fight is an interactive online resource designed for students between the ages of 13-18. The resource helps facilitate understanding of IHL and humanitarian issues and allows the user to experience what it is like for young people living in situations of armed conflict around the world. Teachers can use this resource in collaboration with the lesson plans available in the teaching resources links or they can choose to use it as a stand-alone activity to trigger critical thinking and classroom discussion on issues related to armed conflict. We thank the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for permission to use their resources and photos. The design of this resource was made possible thanks to financial support from the Government of Canada through a project with Global Affairs Canada. For more information please see the Instructional Guide for teachers.

Players assume the role of one of three young persons, and then are presented with a series of choices in the context of local armed conflict.

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The website also includes a section for teachers, with additional instructional materials.

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