We are pleased to feature this report on the One Belt, One Road matrix game developed by COL Jerry Hall. The report below was written by Ryan Carragher, a Boston College student, ROTC member, and intern at the US Army War College. We are grateful to Jerry for sharing the complete set of rules and to LTC Joseph Chretien (US Army War College) for passing all of this on to us.
“One Belt, One Road” (OBOR-MG), a new matrix game developed by Colonel (COL) Jerry Hall, United States Army, focuses on China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) plan for trade expansion and growth. The game is a six-player game, with teams of China, Russia, India, the European Union, the United States, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). With China’s influence expanding, it is up to the other teams to either determine how to counter China, or find a way to grow with them. The game’s scenario begins in the present day and advances three to five years each round, which replicates China’s end goal of completing OBOR by 2050.
COL Jerry Hall discussing the rules of OBOR-MG
The goals and objectives of OBOR-MG are to explore where China’s OBOR plan may take the world over the course of the next few decades, to expose players to the growth of China through trade, and to force players to think of ways that China can be countered. Within the context of the game, agreed upon trade routes must be invested in to be established, and new trade routes can be planned and opened. More directly, the game requires players to use their National Elements of Power (DIME-Diplomacy, Information, Military, and Economic) to exert influence throughout the globe. In doing so, the game requires players to manage multiple different mechanisms of foreign relations. This forces players to expand their thinking at the strategic level. Military leaders playing must consider the diplomatic, economic and information alternatives, while other government officials playing the game must consider the military options as well. This aspect of the game allows it to accomplish its objective of being an effective tool for strategy development and analysis, to test different courses of action, to determine potential U.S. national interests, and to explore potential outcomes of China’s trade expansion. The OBOR-MG game is extremely versatile in its intended audience. Indeed, it is a useful tool for not only military leaders and organizations but also civilian leaders to test and expand strategic plans as well as for students studying any of the countries and regions involved.
The game was built using lessons learned from past matrix games developed at the Center for Strategic Leadership at the U.S. Army War College. COL Hall recognized the need for a matrix game revolving around China’s planned growth in order to better educate students and leaders on how the future can be handled. Furthermore, he thought it was vital to include all aspects of the National Elements of Power, as had been done in previous matrix games, such as the South China Sea and Kaliningrad.
A new design element in this game comes in the form of each player having multiple chits (moves for each element of power) per turn. This allows for a more accurate representation of each player countries’ strengths in individual fields. For example, China begins the game with three economic chits, and one chit for Diplomacy, Military, and Information. This is indicative of the enormous amount of investment China is dedicating to the development of trade routes in order to advance its growth. The United States begins with two diplomacy, military, and economic chits, as well as one information chit. This shows the fact that the United States has diplomatic and military power in the region, but is not investing as much as China.
One of the trackers in OBOR-MG used to track open corridors.
OBOR-MG goes one step further in allowing each payer to play a chit in response to another player’s move, directly after the player makes the move. This allows other players to modify the dice roll by opposing the action with their pieces and making the roll more difficult, or by supporting it and therefore lessening the required role. By adding this facet to the game, COL Hall made OBOR-MG a more realistic test of foreign policy, as players must manage their elements of power in the most effective way possible and have the ability to respond to opponents’ actions in real time. In the game’s development stages, COL Hall also refined the mechanism by which countries gain economic chits. Emphasizing the economic value of the trade routes, countries through which the route travels, upon the route’s completion, increase the number of economic chits they receive at the beginning of each round. Countries that invest in the routes but are not located along them receive an increase in influence in the region of their investment. This aspect of the game’s development is vital, as it accurately recreates the incentive for competing powers to invest in spots that will not show immediate economic gains but will further their long term goals.
OBOR-MG was play-tested extensively by the Strategic Simulations Division at the Center for Strategic Leadership. This play testing recognized the value of players’ ability to make multiple moves and respond to their opponents. It also brought about minor changes in the numbers of chits given to each player at the start of the game. For example, China’s economic chits at the start were reduced from four to three, and the United States’ was increased from one to two. These small changes were made to make the game as reflective of the real world situation as possible. The play testing also shed light on areas in which the game could expand due to players’ actions. For example, the European Union and ASEAN can now develop military chits by working with other players or by establishing a military force through “big” actions – projects that may take multiple turns or chits to accomplish. This rule allows for players to greatly expand the possibilities of what they can do, but in a way that reflects potential real-world developments. With this ability, players are now more capable of testing potential strategies by different countries.
Playtesting the game.
China’s “One Belt One Road” plan has the potential to drastically change the economic world and world power balance, if it is as successful as China expects it to be by 2050. This game has the potential to provide the United States and its global partners a road map on how best to counter China, or how to join them. COL Hall’s OBOR-MG provides a well-developed platform for leaders to test new strategies and for enterprising students to learn about the future of trade, power, and global politics.