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Category Archives: simulation and gaming miscellany

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 9 December 2018

wordle091218.pngPAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers.

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On December 4 the King’s College London Wargaming Network held its inaugural event, a lecture by Peter Perla on “The Art and Science of Wargaming in an Era of Strategic Competition.” You can listen to a recording of here lecture here.

For updates, follow the KCL Wargaming Network on Twitter,

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Slitherine’s counterinsurgency/stabilization game Afghanistan ’11 was removed from the Apple Store last week for reportedly violating the a prohibition on depicting “a specific government or other real entity as the enemies.”

This is not the first time Apple’s ban on real-world conflicts has been controversial. As discussed previously at PAXsims, a Syria-themed game was removed in 2013.

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A report by the US Naval War College discusses a recent cyber wargame:

More than 70 academics, students and military thinkers gathered at U.S. Naval War College on Nov. 16 to participate in the first war game put on by the college’s new Cyber and Innovation Policy Institute.

It was unique for a cyber event. The game was less about how operations occur in cyberspace and more about examining how people react in a crisis that includes cyberspace threats, organizers said.

Also, the contents were at an unclassified level, rare for a cyber war game, and the event included a wide variety of players, including members of the Naval War College Foundation and students from Newport’s Salve Regina University.

“This game is really designed to understand the link between cyber, conventional and nuclear military operations,” said retired Adm. Scott Swift, the event’s keynote speaker.

“It’s not about cyber operations and how those operations affect cyberspace, but instead why and when cyber operations matter to strategic choices that are made outside of the cyber domain,” said Swift, a former U.S. Pacific Fleet commander who is now a fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The players were given a fictional scenario in which a neighboring country invaded a contested border region.

Cyberattacks played a role, and nuclear weapons were a factor. Participants in the breakout groups were assigned to act as cabinet members.

Jacquelyn Schneider, assistant professor in the Strategic and Operational Research Department, was the lead organizer. Her work at the college focuses on political psychology and how technology affects the human dimension of decision-making.

“This is the very beginning of a project that explores not just decisions in crises but experiments with different types of war games,” Schneider said.

“This looks at how does cyberspace interact with the really high-end levers of national power, and then how does that affect, on the macro level, the chance that states end up going to war and the types of war they fight,” she said.

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2018-11-08 18.14.47.jpgOn November 8, staff from the US Naval War College staged a refight of the Battle of Jutland (1916) at the National Maritime Museum in London. You’ll find the US NWC report on the event here.

You’ll also find much fuller reports on the event by Bob Cordery at the Wargaming Miscellany blog, and by David Manley at his blog Don’t Throw Bloody Spears at Me (from which we’ve stolen the photograph on the left).

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On September 28, staff at RAND’s Pittsburgh office held an “education policy game night,” in which community members were asked how they would cut the budget of a hypothetical high school:

How would a group of community leaders choose to cut a high school’s budget by 4 percent? And what would happen if parents or teachers held the red pen instead?

The RAND Corporation’s Pittsburgh office held a game night to find out. The game at hand was “Let’s Improve Tanner High School!,” an education policy exercise designed to help researchers understand how interested parties with different perspectives might tackle school improvement challenges—and help them learn about what drives those decisions.

RAND has a long history of using games to better understand human decisionmaking in relation to public policy. Since the 1950s, RAND has developed and conducted tabletop wargames with policymakers and others to help improve national security decisionmaking, but its gaming repertoire has been recently expanded to social economic policy. “Let’s Improve Tanner High School!” is the first RAND game to focus on education policy, and it made its public debut on Sept. 28.

Participants were grouped by their real-life roles—parents, teachers, school leaders, business leaders, and community leaders.

Darleen Opfer, a RAND vice president and director of its Education and Labor research division, explained the game’s premise. Celia Gomez, an associate policy researcher, and Brian Stecher, an adjunct senior social scientist, led the teams through the game.

Two rounds were played, with a different scenario affecting the fictional Tanner High School each time. In an interview, Gomez said “this is not a game with pieces or a board—there aren’t a lot of visuals—the game is really about ideas and dialogue.”

In the first round, each group was asked how they would accommodate a 4 percent cut in funding. During the 15 minutes the teams had to come up with a plan, the room filled with the sound of shuffling paper and muffled conversation as players read through the school’s current budget, demographic information, academic performance, and other data. When the time came to announce their decisions, no two solutions were the same.

Some suggested external partnerships to provide services that would be lost due to staff cuts. Others proposed non-traditional ways the school could make additional money such as selling education facilities to a developer or asking community leaders to voluntarily advise and mentor students.

During the “spotlight” step, teams were asked to refine their ideas and consider how they might overcome the biggest obstacles to their plans. “In this round, we like to encourage interactions,” Stecher said while inviting participants to share their thoughts with the room.

Once the five groups had announced their final plans, it was time to vote. Participants each had two plastic-chip game pieces to award to any team except their own. The team with the most chips won. Gomez instructed players to base their votes on which teams had the best idea, the best discussion point, or the most helpful feedback.

The school leaders won the first round. They had proposed reducing professional services staff by $255,939 and shifting those responsibilities to existing staff. The rest of the needed cuts would come from eliminating four paraprofessional educator positions.

In the second challenge, teams were given a scenario in which students planned a walkout after a teacher allegedly made a racially charged remark to a student. The groups were asked to come up with an immediate plan while an ongoing investigation is taking place.

The school leaders won this round, too, with a solution that engaged each group represented in the room. The plan involved providing language for homeroom teachers so they could acknowledge the situation and give students a constructive way to be heard. Boycotting class would not be allowed for student safety reasons. And the school would host a meeting to inform parents and the community at large about the situation.

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The latest issue of the Journal of Political Science Education 14, 4 (2018) contains a couple of pieces of possible interest to those who design and use educational games.

An article by Joseph Brown (University of Massachusetts) addresses “Efficient, Adaptable Simulations: A Case Study of a Climate Negotiation Game.”

Instructors may be reluctant to adopt simulations because of time, labor, or material constraints, or perceived incompatibility with large classes. In fact, simple games can cover multiple key concepts with minimal time and effort by the instructor. Simple games are also adaptable to other topics and classes, including large lectures. This article presents a simulation in which students negotiate a global greenhouse gas reduction agreement. Three scenarios model basic climate change mitigation, follow-on agreements for climate stabilization, and the surprise withdrawal of signatories after a domestic leadership turnover (e.g., the 2016 U.S. presidential election). The simulation teaches key concepts such as anarchy, collective action, preference divergence, and commitment problems. Concepts such as institutions, identity, and levels of analysis arise organically from game play. The exercise has extremely low cost and setup time. It can be run in 15 minutes or extended for a full class period. The game may also be repurposed to simulate other bargaining or collective action issues. This case study shows that simulations can be efficient and adaptable. Instructors can create their own simple games to enhance comprehension of key concepts.

Carolyn Shaw (Wichita State University) and Bob Switky (Sonoma State University) look at “Designing and Using Simulations in the International Relations Classroom.”

The value of simulations in the classroom is well established, and there are numerous publications that feature specific role-play exercises that can readily be introduced into the classroom. Frequently, however, instructors would like to design their own simulations to fit their specific learning objectives for a class, but don’t know where to start. This article lays out a series of structural and design questions for instructors to consider in order to craft their own simulations. We recognize that there is no singularly “best” way to design simulations, so this article focuses on the key components of simulations and explores different possibilities for each of these components depending on the desired goals of the instructor. We begin with the basics of class size, topic selection, learning objectives, length, and timing. Next, we discuss the design parameters—including the nature of student interaction, desired output, background information, role-specific instructions, and a timeline for the phases of the simulation. We move on to considerations about the actual running of the simulation, and wrap up with reflections on debriefing, grading, and assessment. By stepping through the design questions that are summarized in the Appendix, any instructor, experienced or new to role-playing, can develop a custom simulation to help meet the learning objectives for their courses.

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An article by Ralph Clem at the Texas National Security Review last month examines “Military Exercises as Geopolitical Messaging in the NATO-Russia Dynamic: Reassurance, Deterrence, and (In)stability.” While exercises are usually quite highly scripted and hence are one rarely proper wargames, it makes for interesting reading.

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Image credit: Edward Castronova.

Could you use a modified version of Volko Ruhnke’s Andean Abyss (GMT Games) to depict a future civil war in the United States? Why, I suppose you could.

The U.S. midterm election next week feels like one of the most important in a generation. We need to get out and vote. And after it’s over, we need to accept the election result. If we do not, then we could sink into a civil war that so many people are talking about. And that is what Edward “Ted” Castronova fears.

Castronova is a video game professor at Indiana University, and he became famous for writing about synthetic worlds and the economies in online games like EverQuest. Worried about the polarization of American politics, Castronova has created 2040 American Abyss: A Simulation of America’s Next Civil War. He tested it with his students and made it as realistic as possible. Rather than thinking of this as cool game about a miserable topic, he sees it as preventive, or teaching people about such a war would be devastating and have no winners. It is not a partisan game.

Should you? I’m not so sure. It’s hard to see, in this case, what the game would deliver that couldn’t be better (and more seriously) delivered through lectures and class discussion. After all, while political polarization in US politics is a very real thing, collapse into full-scale civil war seems implausible in the extreme.

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In early November, British Conservative Party members of the European Parliament tweeted a picture of themselves laughing as they played a Brexit game. They soon deleted the tweet when the political backlash rolled in.

Now, with Prime Minister Theresa May facing an impending defeat of her Brexit plan in the House of Commons, ministerial resignations and a possible split in the Conservative Party, and the very real possibility of a catastrophic “hard” Brexit departure from the European Union (or, possibly, elections or a second referendum), it must all seem even less amusing.

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The Winter 2019 conference of the Reacting to the Past consortium will be held on 18-19 January 2019 at the University of Georgia on the theme of “Reacting to the Past and Gaming: Revolutionizing Higher Education.” Other forthcoming conferences are:

  • January 15-16, 2019: Regional  Conference at University of Maine, Farmington
  • March 2019: Regional Conference at California State University, Northridge
  • March 29-30, 2019: Regional Conference at High Point University 
  • July 10-12, 2019: Regional Conference at Texas Lutheran University

For more information, consult their website.

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The 2019 Games for Change Festival will be held in New York on June 17-19. G4C is currently soliciting proposals for panels, sessions, and demonstrations.

Details can be found on the G4C2019 website.

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According to a recent article in the Toronto Star, “women are taking on the world of Dungeons and Dragons.”

The 44-year-old Dungeons and Dragons brand had its best year in 2017, and 2018 is poised to be even better. Between 10 and 15 million people play the game globally, according to publisher Wizards of the Coast. While much of that growth stems from the prominence of DnD in shows like Stranger Things and a growing group of A-list stars – like Vin Diesel – who love to role play, at least part of that surge can be attributed to women. Today, one in three, or 39 per cent, of players are female, up from 20 per cent in 2012.

Part of that growth comes from the visibility of female players in online streaming services like Twitch and YouTube, says Benjamin Woo, assistant professor in the school of journalism and communications at Carleton University, and author of Get a Life: The Social Worlds of Geek Culture.

As it becomes more common to watch campaigns unfold online (on camera, the host — called the dungeon master — builds out the story narrative and the players think up how to respond, rolling 20-sided die to determine their success or failure), channels like Girls Guts Glory or MissClicks put women front and centre, and showcase that the game can be welcoming to ladies. “(As a woman) it used to be you had to be invited in by someone and there was this secret society, a boy’s club aura (to the game),” Woo says. “Now, there’s representation on screen.”

Wizards has also tried to make the game more inclusive by ditching the stereotypical scantily clad female depictions….

You’ll find the full article at the link above.

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While on the subject of D&D, a report by KQED notes that the role-playing game “cultivates a range of social-emotional skills, which can lay the foundation for improved learning.”

David Simkins, a professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, is an expert on games and learning. His research indicates that role-playing games (RPGs) can boost learning and stimulate intellectual curiosity and growth.

Dungeons & Dragons, and other narrative role playing games of its kind, provide many opportunities for learning,” said Simkins. “Participation in narrative role play can open up interests in topics such as mathematics, science, history, culture, ethics, critical reading, and media production. When D&D and its cousins are played in an inviting, encouraging, compassionate, and intellectually engaged environment, play opens the door to truly amazing possibilities for learning.”

 

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A few weeks ago, I posted my account of the recent workshop I taught on “Serious Games for Policy Analysis and Capacity-Building” at Carleton University in Ottawa. One of the participants, Matt Stevens of Lessons Learned Simulation and Training, has now posted his own review. He has nice things to say!

The course was rich in history, provided extensive examples of modern applications of simulations and wargaming to multiple contexts, and supplied practical tools for building and applying simulations and serious games in the “complex, uncertain environments” to which they are suited.

Rex brought together a wide range of best practices for design and delivery, collected and collated from across the industry and heavily supported by his own practical experience—I would strongly recommend taking a look at his slides, as there are few opportunities to find such a wealth of practical resources on professional simulations in one place. In the coming weeks I expect to highlight a few take-aways and taxonomies raised during the course.

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The Armchair Dragoons website features an interview with Justin Williamson and MAJ David Clayton, two student at the US Army Command & General Staff College, on their recent wargame design experiences at CGSC.

The US Army Command & General Staff College (CGSC) recently launched a new program for students there to pursue an interest in game and sims for training purposes, and end up with a Masters Degree at the end of it all.  We’ve got a more detailed conversation coming up with Dr James Sterrett, who oversees the program, but for now, we thought we’d have a chat with a few of the students who recently completed their degrees and are now back in circulation in the Army, equipped with a wider toolbox of gaming experience.

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Students at Georgetown University in Qatar recent took part in a crisis simulation on the Syrian conflict.

“This is an unparalleled hands-on experiential learning activity for our students, giving them an understanding of what it takes to bring people with very different views to the table to resolve a conflict. These are critical life skills no matter which career path they pursue,” explained Dr. Christine Schiwietz, GU-Q assistant dean for academic affairs. Schiwietz co-organizes the simulation with James Seevers, director of studies at Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy in Washington, D.C.

During the course of one week, 28 GU-Q students attended a series of preparatory workshops including modules on the introduction to diplomacy and negotiation theory in advance of the simulation, which culminated in a day of bilateral and multilateral meetings. Working in teams, they sought to resolve key issues around the fate of the current regime and the opposition, the future of the Kurds, and the presence of foreign military troops.

“We’ve done a series of simulations with students here in Doha over the years. I thought this was one of the very best ones in terms of their level of preparation and their engagement with the issues,” commented Seevers. “The diverse nationalities and background of the student body at GU-Q brings different perspectives to the negotiations.”

Further details can be found at al-Bawaba.

Elsewhere in the Gulf, The National reports that “the inaugural Abu Dhabi Diplomacy Conference, known as Diplocon, will feature talks, workshops and a “future diplomats peacegame” — a crisis simulation designed to test the readiness of diplomats in the field.” Diplocon was held on November 1-15, and the conference website can be found here.

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The forthcoming Civilization 6 expansion Gathering Storm will address the challenge of climate change—not as a political statement, but because it’s real.

“No, I don’t think that’s about making a political statement,” said lead producer, Dennis Shirk. “We just like to have our gameplay reflect current science.”

“We did do our background research on trying to figure out where the global temperature has been over the last 150 years and what types of factors influence it,” continued lead designer Ed Beach. “So we feel like we don’t have to make a political statement, but we can take the common wisdom of the vast majority of the science community and embed that in the game and that becomes something really interesting for players to be able to engage with.”

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Simulation and gaming miscellany, 29 October 2018

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PAXsims is pleased to offer some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers.

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At the Modern War Institute (US Military Academy) website, Garrett Heath and Oleg Svet offer some thoughts on wargaming within the US Department of Defense. Col. Heath leads the Studies, Analysis, and Gaming Division at the Joint Staff, which manages the Wargaming Incentive Fund and supports the Wargaming Repository. Dr. Svet (AT&T) is a senior defense analyst who supports SAGD and the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Each month we analyze new and updated Repository information in order to produce a report that we share with over five hundred government officials of the Defense Wargaming Alignment Group (DWAG). Each report highlights results from multiple recently completed wargames and a listing of upcoming wargames. These reports provide wargaming community members from across all the services, combatant commands, and other DoD organizations with useful information and situational awareness for planning purposes. Perhaps most important is that members gain information that leads to contributing and participating in wargames that they were not previously aware of, but align with topics their organization is interested in. In addition, members share information that they submitted to the Repository during biweekly DWAG meetings. These meetings provide a venue for participants to elaborate on Repository information and begin collaboration on upcoming wargames. During most meetings, we have witnessed firsthand how—just as DoD senior leaders had envisioned—the Repository enables inter-service and cross–combatant command cooperation and collaboration that helps in the development of wargaming concepts and plans, as well as dissemination of wargame lessons learned and results.

To answer the second question, we examined how well games aligned with senior leader priorities and to what extent leaders were involved. Between May 2016 and August 2018, WIF supported fifty-four wargames, which account for 20 percent of all wargames in the Repository during that period. The scenarios for these games addressed the top priorities in the National Defense Strategy that the Secretary of Defense announced in January 2018. The strategy’s principal priorities are China and Russia, while its secondary priorities are North Korea, Iran, and counterterrorism. Our analysis showed that 68 percent of game scenarios focused on peer competitors (the principal priorities in the strategy); and 24 percent looked at rogue states (the secondary priorities). Ninety-two percent of games have been directly aligned with the National Defense Strategy priorities and the most pressing needs of department leaders. The remaining 8 percent focused on topics outside of these priorities but relevant to national strategy. For example, high-level political and military officials from a wide variety of our partners have participated in wargames. These games supported the second line of effort of the strategic approach outlined in the National Defense Strategy, which is strengthening alliances as we attract new partners.

Wargame results were being shared up the chain to influence senior level decision making. Nearly all, fifty-two of fifty-four, WIF-funded wargames’ results, high-level insights, and lessons learned were briefed to senior leaders. Additionally, 32 percent of these games involved direct participation of general and flag officers, or members of the Senior Executive Service. Many of these games had profound impacts. The majority of game results are classified; however, an unclassified example of how a WIF-funded wargame informed senior-level decision making is TRANSCOM’s contested environment wargame. In April 2018, the top commander of US Transportation Command testified to Congress that his wargame revealed critical security vulnerabilities and that lessons learned “drove changes in how we plan for attrition, cyber, mobilization, authorities, access, and command and control.” Instances like this where a commander directs a game and uses the results in his or her decision-making process speaks volumes about the value and need for the WIF.

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CF09Mag.jpgThe latest issue of CounterFact Magazine features a Joe Miranda-designed wargame exploring modern war in a megacity:

War in the MegaCity is a simulation of a fight for a city in the near future. It covers conventional, unconventional and civil disturbance operations. One player controls Government forces, the other the Insurgents.Designed by Joseph Miranda

War in the Megacity (WMC) is a simulation of hypothetical near-future battles fought in metropolitan areas with populations of 10 million or more. The objective is to show the spectrum of operations–conventional, special operations and unconventional–in this type of fighting on the grand tactical level. There are two sides, both controlled by one player, in WMC: the Insurgent player, who wants to seize control of the city. Opposing him in that effort is the Government player. The Infowar Index is central to play. Each player has an Infowar Index, which indicates how successful his is in achieving his goals–representing the amount of overall public support each side is getting.

Each game turn represents from two days to two weeks of real time, depending on the tempo and scope of the activities conducted in each one. The various units represent force sizes–most either task-organized or spontaneously generated–varying between battalion and brigade sizes: anywhere from about 500 to 5,000 total personnel.

The Game Map shows a megacity and its environs. The large rectangular boxes are called sectors. Each sector is named after the predominant structure within it or the main activity conducted across it. Players organize and move their units within the sector boxes.

Separately, Ty Bomba posted some thoughts on “The (Im)Possibility of War in the Mega-City” on the CounterFact Facebook page:

Given the phenomena of “casualty aversion” that’s overtaken Western societies since the end of the Cold War – that is, a general unwillingness by electorates to sustain any government prosecuting a war longer than one election cycle or bloodier than a relative handful of total deaths – and it can be seen it’s effectively impossible for us a society to engage in that kind of war.

The only exception would be if the stakes involved were readily perceived by a majority the electorate as truly and fully existential at the national level. In turn, to get to that level, you have to posit near science fictional scenarios, such as the Chinese landing en masse along the US west coast or armies of Jihadis surging into Europe’s cities. Short of such epochal hypotheticals, one is hard pressed to name any mega-city anywhere on Earth the control of which would be important enough for a US administration, or that of any other Western democracy, to be willing to sacrifice so much to get it.

Mega-city wars will therefore likely remain the domains of criminal gang turf fights and civil wars fought among groups with nowhere else to go. Until such time as aerial and ground drones and autonomous robots are further perfected, no Western democracy can make war effectively in mega-cities.

That in turn led Brian Train to offer his own thoughts on the subject at his Ludic Futurism blog:

I find I cannot disagree with what Ty has written here, having read some time ago all the articles and papers he cites, and more besides. Yes, we will not see the entire rifle-company strength of the US Army and Marine Corps squandered in an enormous mega-Aachen, or even a restaging of the Second Battle of Seoul (not least because Seoul is ten times the size it was in 1950). Ridiculous notion.

Ty published the designer’s notes to the game over on Consimworld some time ago, wherein Joe seems to be walking back the game’s initial impression that you are fighting a massive, primarily kinetic battle for a huge city (wherein Fallujah or Grozny would fill only three or four of the map’s 30 abstract sectors). He uses the triple-CRT, units-rising-and-falling-in-strength method first done in James Dunnigan’s game Chicago-Chicago!, and reused by him in LA Lawless, Decision Iraq, and by me in Greek Civil War (this last by order of Decision Games, though somewhere in between my submission and eventual publication there were a lot of changes to both my game and to Joe’s system, including collapsing the 3 CRTs into one, and radical changes in unit typology and abilities). He also speaks of the ridiculous troop-to-space ratio in a city of 10 million or more, but does note that the troop scale in the game is brigades (thousands of uniforms) vs. crowds (tens of thousands in size); even the guerrilla units are estimated to be a thousand or more fighters (though in fairness, because it’s a Joe Miranda near-future game, there are also small detachments of “”Fifth Generation” troops whose weaponry, and sometimes their own physicality and mental states, have been enhanced by leading-edge technologies.”).

But I added the emphasis in Ty’s penultimate paragraph. Megacities will not be the arenas where entire brigades and divisions square off against each other, but they will see a great deal of low-level irregular conflict, by and among irregular forces, who will be opposed much of the time by uniformed forces in modest amounts. However, I do not share his enthusiasm for autonomous robots.*

Joe and I are on the same wavelength on a lot of things, but often we differ considerably in our design approaches to the same kind of problem. To my mind, a more realistic and sobering pair of books to read on this subject are Planet of Slums by Mike Davis and Out of the Mountains by David Kilcullen (especially his chapter on the Tivoli Gardens operation in Kingston, Jamaica). What would be interesting from my point of view would be a game in a megacity that emphasized limited intelligence, surveillance, building and degrading organizations, positioning and threats, information warfare, for both insurgent and counterinsurgent. All precursors to kinetic operations, which are kept to a minimum. So far the megacities in the world that have experienced problems severe enough to see actual conflict involving their national militaries have all been outside of NATO, and the conflicts have all been pretty one-sided; government moves in against insurgent gangs, they scatter obligingly and civil disorder continues, though turned down to a dull roar until the uniforms leave and the gangs return.

I tried to do this in one of my first games, Tupamaro, which took place entirely within one large city (1.5 million, which was kind of large for 1968). And maybe that’s more typical of what went on in Baghdad (pop 6-7 million, give or take) for years. This was my thinking in developing the “Maracas megacity” module for the District Commander system over the last couple of years, available here for free PnP at least until Hollandspiele publishes it some time in the next few years.

It all makes for some thought-provoking reading.

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The Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation has released an “online first” article by Donald Brown et al on “Design and evaluation of an avatar-based cultural training system.”

The need for cultural training for members of the military, and supporting government and industrial organizations, has become more important because of the increasing expectations of effective collaborations between people of different cultures in order to achieve common security objectives. Additionally, the number and mix of countries, and cultural groups within those countries, make traditional classroom training less feasible. While good simulations have been built for cultural understanding, they have not been developed widely or used for pre-deployment training. This paper describes and evaluates an avatar-based game for pre-deployment training. The game is built around two scenarios from the Afghan culture: a market scenario, and a local leadership council scenario. The game also allows participants to reverse roles and play the part of an Afghan interacting with an American solider. To evaluate this avatar-based game, we developed an experimental design to test the effectiveness of the game versus commonly used video instruction, and to test the effectiveness of role reversals in training with games. Results show that participants trained with the avatar-based game had significantly improved understanding of Afghan culture (p<0.01p<0.01). However, role reversal did not improve performance. Additionally, responses to a questionnaire showed that participants in the avatar-based game had a much greater appreciation for their understanding of the Afghan culture than the more video-trained control group.

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Ed Farren is developing a simple two player counterinsurgency game, Viva La Revolution. The print-and-play version will be available on BoardGameGeek, and an online version can be found for Tabletop Simulator on Steam.

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It looks very good, and we hope to review it here at PAXsims in the near future.

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The International Organization for Migration recently held another one of its simulation exercises on cross-border mass migration, this time in Niger.

More than 500 members from communities, local authorities, civil society and security forces participated in IOM’s fourth crisis simulation exercise this week (17/10) in Tillabéri, Niger.

The exercise took place in close partnership with the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Humanitarian Action and Natural Disaster Management, and the Ministry of Health in Niger.

The exercise was organized under the project Engaging Communities in Border Management in Niger – Phase II, funded by the US Department of State. This was the fourth simulation exercise organized by IOM in Niger, having previously held similar exercises in 2017 and 2018 – two in Zinder region and one in Agadez region.

Tillabéri, site of this latest exercise, lies in a region covering southwest Niger which is regularly affected by population displacement flows. After the internal armed conflict in neighbouring Mali in 2012, over 50,000 Malians sought refuge in Niger. More recently, intercommunity clashes and the presence of terrorist armed groups in Niger triggered the internal displacement of more than 32,000 Nigeriens.

As with previous exercises, the simulation this week used a scenario conducted under real-life circumstances to test local and regional authorities’ ability to respond to a mass migration movement into Niger, precipitated by a crisis at the border.

This was the first time IOM Niger organized a simulation exercise on the Niger river, which entailed new logistical and coordination challenges. The new setting allowed for new actors to be involved in the exercise, such as the Gendarmerie’s River Brigade and the Environmental Services.

In addition to building the capacities of the authorities in responding to cross-border crises, the simulation exercise also enhanced community involvement in crisis management, as communities from the surrounding area played the roles of both displaced populations and of welcoming community….

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Chris Bennett of the Game Design Thinking Research Group at Stanford University asks “How Do You Create Paper AI?”

One of the challenges of board games, and especially more sophisticated historical simulation games, is finding the opponents and the time to play. In the past decade or so, we have seen a shift in the hobby towards games that support more robust solitaire play. But until more recently, most solitaire play felt very luck based, and seemed to have little strategic thought behind it. In short, it rarely felt like playing against a “real” player.

But in 2010, GMT Games published ‘Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001-?’ by game designer and CIA national security analyst Volko Ruhnke. And as part of this card-driven two-player boardgame about the complex political and military nature of the War of Terror, there was an option to play the game “solo” using a paper AI to tell the human player what to do in various situations….

You can read the full item at the link above.

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Earlier this month, the G20 Health Ministerial Meeting in Argentina featured a drug-resistant E. Coli pandemic crisis simulation, as part of an international effort to tackle antimicrobial resistance. According to the UK government:

The governments of the UK and Argentina will lead on the exercise to test G20 world leaders on how they would tackle the spread of an infection that is resistant to antibiotics.

The crisis simulation will put ministers in a fictional scenario where an E. Coli outbreak that is resistant to antibiotics spreads across borders, putting public health, livestock, trade and travel at risk. The exercise takes place today (Thursday 4 October) at the G20 Health Ministerial Meeting in Mar del Plata Argentina.

The simulation will test leaders’ and countries’ ability to act quickly if antibiotic resistant bugs cross borders and lead to a pandemic affecting global public health, placing pressure on health systems and the economies of the fictional countries involved. It will be led by Chief Medical Officer for England Professor Dame Sally Davies and Argentine journalist Dr Nelson Castro.

The exercise will raise awareness and understanding of the key challenges of AMR, and encourage G20 ministers to ensure countries are doing everything they can in the global fight against superbugs.

The aim is to help governments across the world confront difficult issues around reducing antibiotic resistant bugs, including how to reduce the overuse of antimicrobial drugs, while making sure patients who need them have access to them….

You’ll find further coverage at the Daily Mail.

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Can you do better than Theresa May and the British government as they try to negotiate an exit from the European Union? Bloomberg gives you a chance to find out in their online Pick-Your-Own Brexit Game.

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Last month we posted a report on RAND’s Will To Fight project. At the Bravo Zulu blog, Mountain Navy offers some additonal thoughts:

…Wargame designers may benefit from the Will-to-Fight Model (p. xx) presented in this study. It certainly provides a different way of looking at those factors that affect a soldier on the battlefield.

My own reaction to the study is mixed; I like the model but shake my head ruefully at the games selected for study. If nothing else, maybe Will to Fight will give another generation of wargame designers and publishers a chance to assist the military and create a better war fighting force. I can only wonder what designers and publishers like Mark Herman or Uwe Eickert or Volko Ruhnke, or even small start-up companies like Covert Intervention Games think as all in the past or presently support government or military gaming.

 

 

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 11 August 2018

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PAXsims is pleased to offer some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers. Anders Russell and David Becker suggested material for this latest edition.

Like what you’re reading? You can always support the work of PAXsims via Patreon.

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Save the date! The next Connections US professional wargaming conference will be held on 13-16 August 2019 at the US Army War College in Carlisle, PA.

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Also, don’t forget about the Connections North wargaming conference to be held in Montréal on 16 February 2019.

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Highway-to-Seoul-768x437.pngThe Australian Army’s professional development website, The Cove, features a piece by Major Edward Farren (British Army) on using the Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) PC game Wargame Red Dragon at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst

Being the commander of a rehabilitation platoon could easily be viewed as an undesirable posting. All my soldiers were unable, through injury or sickness, to participate in the full range of training that I was used to running as an infantry officer. The post also naturally comes with a heavier burden of medical, welfare and policy bureaucracy which must be learnt, if not entirely mastered, in order to promote the recovery of the platoon. The nature of a rehabilitation platoon, however, makes it ideal for conceptual development. Indeed the minds of the broken (no disrespect intended) are in desperate need of stimulation and focus to avoid fixating on their plight, often prolonging their recovery and, for some, triggering their intention to leave the service altogether. The format for a typical day would see the troops under dedicated physiotherapists and injury specialists in the morning so by the time I got them for afternoon lessons they were generally fatigued. Therefore, the more practical I could make the lessons, and the more interaction involved generally, the better the outcome. The example in this article is but one iteration of a series of practical professional military education (PME) activities, largely centred on the use of wargaming, I employed to teach my soldiers. Those that came before me, and those that followed me, not doubt did things differently. That is, of course, their prerogative and the pleasure of one’s own command. I do not seek to compare methods, only to share what I consider to be an effective technique that others could replicate and improve upon.

Birth of an idea

Walking into the lines after duty one evening I discovered several of my charges playing a commercial PC game ‘Wargame Red Dragon’ in some form of multiplayer engagement. There was an electric sense of competition and associated bragging rights for the winner. Some casual enquiries revealed who the ‘best’ players of this little clique were. After a short discussion I had their support for using the simulation to train them in the upcoming Defensive Doctrine module. I decided that the best way to incorporate the simulation was as a CPX timed to assess conceptual understanding of defensive doctrine taught by traditional methods….

You’ll find the rest of the article here.

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Are you a teacher who wants some ideas on how to set up and run a gaming club at your high school? Look no further than On Sean’s Table.

This was year 16 for the Games Club I run at my high school. It reflected the trend in the larger gaming community: numbers were up overall, girls attended almost as much as boys, and the preferred type of game shifted decidedly from cardboard, dice, and counter to games focussed on more social interaction.

His blog has featured several other posts on high school gaming, including how he set it up, and what the best games are to have available for student play.

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This is Not a Drill is an Australian Broadcasting Corporation television show that uses a seminar game/scenario discussion format to explore contemporary challenges, such as a crisis in the South China Sea or cybersecurity.

Recent episodes can be found on YouTube.

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Shortly after last month’s Helsinki Summit (and its aftermath), the Washington Post ran a piece on Twilight Struggle–”perhaps the best board game ever.

In 2018, of course, Twilight Struggle — with its re-creation of a world in which the United States and Russia locked horns — is closer to describing current reality than at any point since it was released. “It definitely feels relevant now,” says Ananda Gupta, 41, who invented the game with Matthews. “All you’d need to do is add a few more cards and you could just extend it to today. … If I had a mind to, I’m confident we could do a Cold War game along the lines of the current one that’s happening.”

Indeed, in various online forums, fans of the game have taken to inventing their own contemporary cards, like one addressing President Trump’s abandonment of our European allies to court Vladimir Putin; that card removes the game’s blue-colored U.S. influence markers in Europe to provide an opening for Russian red ones. The anonymous fan who created the card named it “The Art of the Deal.”

The article discusses more than the game, and also touches upon the current renaissance of board gaming.

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Reminder: Carleton University in Ottawa will be offering a two-day course on serious games on 22-23 November 2018.

Notice - NPSIA-PT&amp;D's Practical Certificate in Serious Games for Policy Analysis and Capacity-Building workshop - Nov 2018

If all goes according to plan, I will be joined by two special international guests—one a well-known British wargamer and PAXsims associate editor, the other an American wargamer and occasional PAXsims contributor. I won’t tell you who they are yet, but here’s a hint…

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Simulation and gaming miscellany, 13 July 2018

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PAXsims is pleased to present a number of items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers.

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The Connections US professional wargaming conference will be held at National Defense University on 17-20 July. Several of the PAXsims team will be there. We will have AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game and the Matrix Game Construction Kit (MaGCK) on display during the games demonstrations, and there will also be an opportunity to play We Are Coming, Nineveh! (The Battle for West Mosul, February-July 2017) or to discuss other games that are in development. Be sure to say hello!

If you miss us at Connections UK, members of the PAXsims team will also be at Connections UK in September, the Serious Games Forum (Paris) in December, and/or Connections North in February.

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The “NATO Engages” public outreach component of the recent NATO summit in Brussels features an audience-participation simulation/seminar game/discussion on cybersecurity:

Cyber Crisis Simulation

Ambassador Sorin Ducaru , Special Adviser , Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace
Carmen Gonsalves , Head of International Cyber Policy Department , Kingdom of the Netherlands; Co-chair, Global Forum on Cyber Expertise
Tanel Sepp, Head of the Cyber Policy Department, Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Estonia
Moderator: Diana Kelley , Cybersecurity Field Chief Technology Officer , Microsoft

Concerns about cyber security have skyrocketed as governments, economies, and societies increasingly depend on the internet and digital technologies. The increasing number of cyber-attacks also places new pressures on top of long-existing coordination difficulties when EU and NATO countries find themselves in need to respond to a cyber-driven crisis. The scope and sophistication of modern cyber-attacks require quick, interoperable responses throughout all strategic and logistical layers, from the political leaderships to civil services to the private sector. The objectives of this cyber exercise will be to highlight challenges in decision-making and response procedures when facing a crisis situation caused by a cyber-attack; to identify what capabilities help the decision-making process and multi-stakeholder intelligence sharing; and to improve cyber awareness among the participants as well as highlighting lessons learned and best cyber practices. A panel of practitioners will be asked to respond in real-time to a realistic cyber crisis scenario unfolding in a fictional country. The audience will be asked to play an active role during this exercise by commenting and voting on the most convincing response options presented by the panelists as the crisis scenario evolves.

There is no word yet if the next NATO summit will include a simulation of diplomatic chaos within the alliance sparked by the unpredictable leader of a major NATO country.

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While on the subject of NATO, are you looking for an overview of the recent Supreme Allied Command Transformation urbanization wargame final planning workshop? Well, we’ve got that!

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Still more NATO stuff: Simon Fraser University recently conducted its 2018 NATO Field School and Simulation.

The SFU-NATO Field School and Simulation program is a 12 credit intensive upper-level Political Science course that combines coursework with experiential learning. The program will be open to universities across Canada and provides the opportunity for students to observe and engage military personnel, policy advisors and diplomats in their workplace. This includes visiting and embedded experts from the Department of National Defence, the Canadian Armed Forces, NATO and academia, as well as high-level briefings at NATO HQ, SHAPE, and the Canadian Delegation to the European Union.

The cohort will attend familiarization visits at Canadian Armed Forces bases in Western Canada, then travel to NATO HQ in Belgium for a week of briefings by NATO officials. At the NATO Defense College (NDC) in Rome, the cohort will do four days of a professionally run NATO-simulation (NMDX) with NDC mentors and Senior Course curriculum. The 2018 field school will also visit the Canadian Battlegroup in Latvia, and NATO’s Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence in Riga.

Details regarding the 2019 programme will be posted later to the SFU webpage.

PAXsims

The Australian Army professional development website The Cove features a recently-posted paper by Callum Muntz entitled “Gamification: Press ‘START’ to Begin.”

Gamification uses proven techniques to influence human behaviour, is used by big businesses the world over, and is an ever-growing industry (Pickard 2017). Most military training is dull, dry, and uninteresting – but it doesn’t have to be so. Gamification can be used to enhance the Army’s training, and should become a consideration in the Systems Approach to Defence Learning (SADL). Yu-Kai Chou’s Octalysis model could be considered a worthy starting point for improving Army training with Gamification.

Elsewhere at the website, you’ will also find a quick decision exercise, Takistan Ambush.

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At Medium, “Oscar’ uses the Matrix Game Construction Kit and a repurposed game board from Labyrinth to produce Crashing the Gates: An Ad-Hoc “Wargame” Scenario About Migration.

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Simulation and gaming miscellany, 27 May 2018

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PAXsims is pleased to offer some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) games that may be of interest to our readers.

Know of anything we might include? Pass it on!

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The Viking 18 peacekeeping exercise took place on 16-26 April 2018 at sites in Brazil, Bulgaria, Finland, Ireland, Serbia and Sweden. Organized annually by the Swedish Armed Forces and the Folke Bernadotte Academy, this year it included 2,500 participants from 50 countries and 35 organizations.

The exercise blog can be found here. In addition, there is a report on the Brazilian part of the exercise at Dialogo. The scenario is presented in the video above.

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The War Room at the US Army War College features an article by Brad Hardy on “The Art of Gaming, Strategic Edition,” in which he talks about use of the board game  Diplomacy in the Basic Strategic Arts Program.

To teach negotiation skills, the BSAP faculty looked for a teaching tool which went beyond the well-worn methods of assigned readings and briefings, and toward a more hands-on instructional approach. It found a solution in Diplomacy, a board game.

BSAP uses Diplomacy in two phases over the first half of the course. The first phase takes a methodical approach to introducing the game’s mechanics. Although Diplomacy enjoys a decades-long history, it is unfamiliar to most BSAP students – few know the rules and fewer still are active players. Fortunately, the rules are simple and the game is easy to learn. Following a turn-a-week familiarization, students take on a full day exercise in the second phase of the course.

BSAP will continue to use Diplomacy in the course curriculum, as a practical application of strategic concepts being studied. Future classes may see a more contemporary game map aligned to one (or all) of the competitive regions named in the 2018 National Defense Strategy, such as the Indo-Pacific region, Europe, or the Middle East. Other iterations may seek to employ an economic component too, as an element of national power.

Regardless of any future modifications to the program, its persistent theme is that gaming is a useful method for educating Army strategists, and also possibly an even broader audience. Other Army schools, such as the Command and General Staff College, have already started to use simple gaming in their instruction. Diplomacy’s open-endedness and minimal rule sets offer enough flexibility for it to serve as a tool in any number of curricula across the military’s mid-grade staff and senior service colleges. With a bit of imagination and an emphasis on realistic objectives, playing at strategy could very well help military planners win at wars.

Previously at PAXsims, David Romano has also pointed to the teaching value of Diplomacy and other board games. One concern I have always had, however, concerns the hyper-realist and very transactional nature of such games, which tend to both mischaracterize alliance behaviour as highly fluid, and overstate war as an instrument of contemporary foreign policy.

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The latest issue of PS: Political Science & Politics 51, 2 (April 2018)contains two article on simulations—one by Dick Carpenter and Joshua Dunn on simulating the effects of campaign finance laws in the classroom, and a second by Elizabeth Mendenhall and Tarek Tutunji on “Teaching Critical Understandings of Realism through Historical War Simulations.” Interestingly, this latter piece addresses some of the concerns I raised above regarding the portrayal of realist international theory in games, describing the development and testing of a game design that offers a deeper and potentially more critical perspective.

This article presents a simple modular simulation for teaching the advantages and limitations of Realist theory in an introductory international relations course. The advantages of this simulation include low preparation time, minimal resource requirements, and ease of integration with existing curricula. The game design is built around Kenneth Waltz’s “three-image” framework for analyzing international politics, in a way that increases scenario complexity but not game difficulty. The article describes the full simulation process, from game design and implementation through debriefing and assessment. Two historical simulations were conducted: the first helped students to understand Realism and the second helped them to see its limitations. The article concludes with a discussion of the results of a voluntary, anonymous postgame survey that is intended to assess achievement of our learning objective.

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At the Active Learning in Political Science blog, Amanda Rosen discusses Model Diplomacy, a series of US National Security Council simulations put out by the Council on Foreign Relations.

Each case includes a primer on the NSC, an extensive briefing on the case itself (the history and context, as well as a specific crisis scenario for the NSC to resolve), and additional videos and reading for follow-up research. Optional assessments are built into the system with rubrics, templates, and examples. These include short answer quizzes on the NSC and case primers, and position memos and policy review memos (the president turns in a presidential directive instead of a memo). There are also student and instructor manuals, a quick start guide, a guide for the supplementary UNSC simulation, and an overview of the NSC roles. These resources are very helpful in helping you and the students prepare for the simulation.

You can assign students specific roles in the NSC or leave them all as ‘general advisors’.  There are only about 14 roles built into the system, but you can customize new ones.  I would recommend assigning roles–they end up learning more about a particular agency and are in some cases forced to represent viewpoints other than their own.  It also ensures that a wide range of considerations–political, economic, diplomatic, legal, etc–are represented during the simulation.

The system is user-friendly.  You sign up as an instructor, pick your case (I let my students vote), and then have the system send email invites the students to register.  Once they do, you can assign them roles, which are then sent automatically to the students. The simulation is designed to be completed in a face-to-face classroom, but would easily work in an online environment either synchronously or asynchronously via message boards or social media.

If you want to learn more about Model Diplomacy, head to their website (linked at the start of the post).  There’s also an entire series of interviews with other instructors that have used the simulation–check out the most recent one with Dr. Craig Albert of Augusta University–that link contains links to the other interviews in the series.

PAXsims

A recent report on a terrorism exercise held late last year in Switzerland has revealed some serious deficiencies:

A simulation of terrorist acts that included a hostage situation at the United Nations, an attack on a railway station and a potential nuclear radioactive leak revealed lack of coordination at the federal government level.

The complex scenario was carried out on November 16 last year to test the response of the federal government, as well as the cantons of Geneva and Bern. The government was confronted with a potential radioactive leak at the Mühleberg nuclear power station in canton Bern, a terrorist attack at the Eaux-Vives station in Geneva causing numerous deaths and injuries, and a hostage situation at the Geneva headquarters of the United Nations.

The report on the reaction of the authorities was released this week and revealed by the Swiss national broadcaster RTS. Results were very mixed, according to the report published by the Federal Chancellery. The report says there was a lack of coordination among all participants, mainly due to the lack of an overall understanding of the situation. Over-reliance on unreliable information and confusion stemming from different versions of events resulted in “ambiguities and uncertainties”. It also took seven hours for the Federal Council’s crisis response group to be set up and to meet, causing significant delays in decision-making.

The report also notes a lack of communication between the federal government and the canton of Geneva, which led to misunderstandings and delays. The document says there were problems of understaffing in some teams and some staff members who did not know what to do in the situation.

The report lists ten recommendations. In particular, it urges the authorities to rethink the organisation of crisis management at federal level and to clarify certain processes and responsibilities. The implementation of these recommendations will be reviewed in 2019 in a new exercise.

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Last year, RAND published Dominating Duffer’s Domain: Lessons for the US Army Information Operations Practitioner.

As you might expect, it is modelled after the classic 1904 book by Major General Sir Ernest Dunlop Swinton, Defence of Duffer’s Drift.PAXsims

Registration is open for the 2018 annual conference of the North American Simulation and Gaming Association, to be held on 16-19 October in Rochester, NY.

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Chris Engle, the inventor of matrix gaming, has put up a new web page of free hobby matrix games. You’ll find it here

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PAXsimsIn the “better late than never on PAXsims” category, Tom Mouat has noticed that the November 2016 issue of Cyber Security and Information Systems Information Analysis Center (CSIAC) Journal was devoted to wargaming.

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Last but by certainly not least, we’re pleased to announce that three new (volunteer) research associates will be joining PAXsims for the duration of the year: Harrison Brewer, Kia Kouyoumjian, and Juliette Le Ménahèze. All three were members of my conflict simulation seminarlast term at McGill University: Harrison and Juliette worked on a tactical wargame of Iraqi urban operations in Mosul, while Kia was part of the team that designed a game about mass atrocity during the Darfur war in Sudan. You can see their handiwork here.

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 24 March 2018

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PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) games that might be of interest to our readers. This issue contains a few items from earlier in the year that we forgot to include in previous editions.

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The US Naval War College reports that its students have been participating in beta-testing of an educational wargame of the WWII Battle of Leyte Gulf, developed by NWC staff.

“This game provided students with a chance to play as two teams in each of the two seminars, facing off as U.S. and Japanese commanders in the culminating naval battle of Leyte Gulf which took place during World War II,” said Johnson. “The goal of the game was to provide an opportunity for experiential learning regarding the fundamental concepts of operational art supporting operational warfare.”

The game was setup to be a two-sided, closed-intelligence or “two-room” game, where neither side could see the other’s battle force line up and must determine through the course of play where and what the opposing side was executing with its forces.

During the game, the students maneuvered air, sea and land forces against each other in accordance with an operational idea that they generated based on their studies of the historical battle. The other reason behind the learning game beta test is to see if JMO will include this in the curriculum for all NWC intermediate course students next year.

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In another example of in-house educational wargame design, staff at the US Army Command and General Staff College are testing out their own manual wargame:

The hex-style, map-based simulation, titled “Landpower: Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey (GAAT)” was developed last year by Lt. Col. Patrick Schoof, an Army Simulations officer, and Shane Perkins, team leader of four classes, both instructing at the staff college. “Landpower” builds upon a scenario the students have worked through continually during the course, putting their strategies against one another to expose potential gaps and shortfalls they had previously not accounted for.

“We put this through multiple tests, labs, and changes before bringing it to the classroom, as well as spending months collaborating with the Director of Simulation Education to ensure we were bringing a quality product that had the potential to meet our learning objectives,” said Perkins.

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They certainly seem to be honing their essential pointing skills.

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According to Lt. Gen. Michael Lundy,  director of the Army Combined Arms Center, US Army wargaming remains significantly under-resourced with regard to conceptual experimentation:

Lundy stressed it is important to wear concepts out to better define requirements so that program managers can build better solutions. “I need battle labs to get good requirements,” he said.

Without the experimentation process, requirements can spiral out of control or be unrealistic.

PAXsims

Back in January, President Donald Trump lauded the sale of “F-52s” to Norway. However, as the Washington Post reported, there’s no such plane—except in the video game Call of Duty.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders did not return a request to comment on the issue and did not respond to a question asking whether Trump was a Call of Duty fan.

PAXsims

Underscoring the growing success of tabletop gaming as a hobby, the Atlantic published a piece in January that described the rise of Eurogames and their impact on the hobby.

In a development that would have been hard to imagine a generation ago, when video games were poised to take over living rooms, board games are thriving. Overall, the latest available data shows that U.S. sales grew by 28 percent between the spring of 2016 and the spring of 2017. Revenues are expected to rise at a similar rate into the early 2020s—largely, says one analyst, because the target audience “has changed from children to adults,” particularly younger ones.

Growth has also been particularly swift in the category of “hobby” board games, which comprises more sophisticated titles that are oriented toward older players—think Settlers of Catan. These games, compared to ones like Monopoly and Cards Against Humanity, represent a niche segment, but that segment is becoming something more than a niche: According to ICv2, a trade publication that covers board games, comic books, and other hobbyist products, sales of hobby board games in the U.S. and Canada increased from an estimated $75 million to $305 million between 2013 and 2016, the latest year for which data is available.

Hobby-game fanaticism is still very much a subculture, to be sure, but it is a growing one. At the 2017 iteration of Gen Con—North America’s largest hobby-gaming convention, in Indianapolis—turnstile attendance topped 200,000. For the first time in the event’s history, all the attendee badges were purchased before the event began. Whether they knew it or not, the many thousands of people carpeting the field level of Lucas Oil Stadium wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for a small group of obsessives on the other side of the Atlantic.

Meanwhile, at the Wall Street Journal they suggest some political and military-themed board games worth trying out (paywall).

PAXsims

Saudi Arabia will be holding first ever card playing competition last month. As al-Jazeera reported, the prohibition on gambling in Islamic law, and the strict Sunni fundamentalism of many Saudis, made the decision controversial. You’ll find additional reporting at Arab News.

This sensitivity is one that serious game designers need to take into account too: one NGO recently told me that they had been unable to use card-based training materials with Saudi participants, because some objected on religious grounds.

PAXsims

Can gaming help to improve forecasting ability? A recent study suggests that (video) gamers are better able to assess the probability of future events:

The debate over video gaming’s potential benefits is a divisive one. Yet despite the concerns of many, a significant body of research proves a correlation between playing video games and improved attention resources, problem solving, and response speed. Additionally, a recent study determined that playing action-based video games can positively affect a player’s probability categorizing skills.

In order to assess and understand gamers’ probabilistic skills, a group of researchers studied 15 participants who played action-based video games 15 or more hours a week and 15 participants who played less than 15 hours a week. The subjects participated in a Weather Prediction Task (WPT), where they were asked to identify a series of weather cue card combinations and make predictions based on probabilities they detected. The WPT contained a variety of prediction tasks, which required subjects to make educated guesses on outcomes where probability ranged anywhere from 80/20% to 60/40%. While the WPT was being performed, subjects were scanned in an MRI scanner to determine which parts of their brain were activated and in order to understand the types of memory processes at work.

The researchers found that gamers were notably better at making predictions, especially under conditions characterized by stronger uncertainty. For example while the gap between correct predictions in gamers and non-gamers was smaller in 80/20% conditions, the gap was much larger in 60/40% conditions. Additionally, brain imaging data showed there was a higher level of activity in the regions of gamers’ brains that relate to and strengthen memory, attentional processes, and cognitive control. A post-experiment questionnaire also showed that the video gamers had an increased ability to draw conclusions, despite existing uncertainties, because during the WPT they had retained more declarative knowledge about the card combinations and related weather outcomes.

You’ll find an overview of the research at New Learning Times, and the full study by Sabrina Schenk, Robert K. Lech, and Boris Suchan in Behavioural Brain Research 335 (September 2017).

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dwtcoincover.gifThe remarkably prolific History of Wargaming Project has released another publication, this time a volume on Small Wars: New Perspectives on Wargaming Counter-Insurgency on the Tabletop by David Wayne Thomas. It features an introduction by renowned counterinsurgency wargame designer Brian Train, followed by six short sets of rules. These address tactical, but more so operational/campaign-level games, in contexts ranging from the colonial French Sahara, Ireland, and Vietnam to contemporary company-level counter-insurgency operations.

The volume is likely to be of more interest to hobby gamers looking for relatively simple rules with some innovative approaches and game mechanisms, rather than those using such games for professional (educational or analytical) purposes.

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The latest issue of the Journal of Defense Modelling and Simulation is devoted to the topic of “Model-Driven Paradigms for Integrated Approaches to Cyber Defense.”

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The International Organization for Migration recently conducted a crisis simulation in Niger, involving more than eight hundred members of local communities, authorities, civil society and security forces, as part of a broader capacity-building project.

Using a real-life scenario, the simulation exercise tested local and regional authorities’ abilities to respond to a mass migration movement into Niger precipitated by a crisis at the border. Based on the results of the exercise, a regional crisis contingency plan will be drafted in conjunction with authorities in Agadez.

Agadez is located in northern Niger, a region regularly affected by migration flows both in and out of the country. Over the last few decades, the movement of goods and persons has increased considerably in Niger, requiring improved structures for immigration and border management (IBM) to more effectively manage cross-border movements. As a result, the state has been confronted with the challenge of better facilitating these legitimate movements while maintaining secure borders.

IOM’s IBM unit has been active in Niger since 2015 and is implementing projects aiming to reinforce border management in the country and the Sahel region. Since then, more than 15,000 people have been reached through awareness-raising activities aimed at improving the dialogue between communities and authorities.

Through the creation of prevention committees along Niger’s borders, and the inclusion of local populations in simulation exercises and awareness campaigns, IOM includes border communities as full actors in border management.

Within this context, the simulation exercise sought to enhance community involvement in crisis management. Communities from the surrounding area played the roles of both displaced populations and welcoming community. The exercise incorporated a strong community engagement component to foster communication between local communities and authorities. As communities are the first to directly encounter signs of a crisis, communication with local authorities is crucial both in ensuring a quick and effective crisis response, as well as in preventing future crises.

At the end of the exercise, IOM distributed over 400 hygiene kits to participating community members, and will deliver six tents to be used in crisis management to the Agadez Governorate.

The simulation was part of the project Engaging Communities in Border Management in Niger – Phase II, funded by the US Department of State. This was the third exercise of its kind organized by IOM in Niger, which had held two exercises in the Zinder region in 2017. The simulation was planned in close partnership with the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Humanitarian Action and Natural Disaster Management and the Ministry of Health of Niger.

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Students at the University of Virginia’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, and at fifteen other universities, recently addressed the challenges of epidemic response in a simulation. the simulation was organized by the Center for Leadership Simulation and Gaming.

Students on each three- to five-member team were assigned roles: prime minister, minister of public health, minister of finance, World Health Organization representative and a head of communications.

As a game clock ticked down on a computer screen in front of them, students were required to quickly process information.

Where was the virus spreading? How many fatalities were occurring?

If it was within their country’s budget, the students could purchase vaccinations. If it wasn’t, they could raise taxes in order to do so – though that would have an effect on their approval rating.

Everything was a giant balancing act.

And, with six months of global activity being compressed into four, one-hour rounds, everything was moving at warp speed.

“It was a good reminder that, in the heat of the moment, policy is complicated,” said Babbin, a first-year student in the Master of Public Policy program. “When we’re sitting in the classroom, it’s easy to say, ‘Oh, this is obviously the right choice.’ But when you’re sitting there and you have all of these things coming at you and you’re watching the number of infections rise, you really have to make snap decisions when you don’t always have all of the information that you wish you did.

“Sometimes you just have to make an educated decision.”

You’ll find more here.

PAXsims

Kennesaw State University conducted a simulation on the European mass migration crisis entitled “Refugees, Religions, and Resistance.”

The simulation placed graduate students, Ph.D. students, an undergraduate student and alumni in the shoes of real-world people that have a direct role in handling the refugee crisis.

“The intention in all of this is to help students both, one, learn information and, two, practice skills they will need in their professional lives,” said Dr. Sherrill Hayes, a professor of conflict management. “In the case of the Refugee Crisis in Europe simulation, it was important for students to understand the content of what is happening in Europe with migration and refugees since migration is one of the front and center issues in international conflict and peacebuilding.”

It was placed in the context of the fictional town of Waldbach, Germany, in the state of Saxony. Participants were given roles as a principal at the town’s school, mayoral candidates for competing parties, the local factory owner and refugees, among other roles — in total, 14 people participated.

The purpose of the simulation is “to develop an understanding of the complexities of global migration and, more specifically, the current refugee crisis in Europe.”

A series of sub-scenarios challenged the participants to strategically work together to achieve goals that were outlined in the descriptions of each “character.” Some scenarios included: finding a resolution to educating Syrian refugee children, a proposal to build a mosque, violence against the refugees and a food shortage in the refugee camp.

The “townspeople” and “refugees” were physically separated in different buildings at the Cherokee Outdoor YMCA, where the simulation was held, to add to the realistic element of separation.

You’ll find further information at The Sentinel.

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The Reacting to the Past Consortium will be holding their Eighteenth Annual Faculty Institute on June 14-17 at Barnard College.

This year the Institute offers intensive workshops on twelve different games, as well as plenary and concurrent sessions that explore issues related to teaching and learning, faculty development, and the future of higher education more generally.

You’ll find more information at their website. The Consortium also has its usual series of regional conferences planned.

PAXsims

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GridlockED is a boardgame of hospital emergency room management developed by Dr. Teresa Chan and a team at McMaster University.

Co-designed learning platform.

This game was co-designed with emergency medicine faculty and medical students. The goal was to create a game that could allow future doctors to learn systems approaches to patient management in a safe, low stakes environment.

Play together to save patients.

In GridlockED, players work together to treat and prioritize patients. This fosters collaboration and communication skills.

Make low stakes mistakes

This game allows players to grasp what a real emergency department (ED) is like, without the life-or-death stakes.

We were fortunate to work with Teresa early on in the development process during the Simnovate 2016 conference at McGill university, where Vince Carpini and myself ran a workshop on serious game design.

The Hamilton Spectator has further details, and their Facebook page is here. The game goes on sale on March 27.

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 23 February 2018

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PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers. Bill Rogers suggested material for this latest edition.

Have suggestions for our next update? Send them on!

PAXsims

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The Joseph “Jay” Arnold discusses “Buildings Teams with Board Games” in the January 2018 edition of the United States Naval Institute Proceedings:

Leaders are often at a loss to find successful team-building exercises, frequently falling back on stereotypical team sports or costly outside facilitators. Many modern board games offer an opportunity for team-based and cooperative play that can provide surprisingly innovative team-building. Unlike tired old family standbys such as “Monopoly,” “Clue,” or “Sorry,” these more recent games are tailor-made to be more challenging, more cerebral, and more likely to encourage repeat play. Furthermore, these games can help your team develop transferable skills—performing complex tasks while stressed, anticipatory planning, and interpersonal communications. A class of Illinois Army National Guard officer candidates recently tested the value of such games by playing the science-fiction game “Space Cadets: Dice Duel” by Stronghold Games as part of a weekend activity and found it valuable.

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Waypoint features a thoughtful interview with Luke Hughes about his new wargame (or tactical leadership RPG), Burden of Command:

Burden of Command follows a historical company of U.S. soldiers, part of the Army’s 7th Infantry Regiment “Cottonbalers,” through some of the now-familiar beats of World War II. And even though if you squint a bit the game might look like a familiar wargame complete with hexes and unit counters, its focus is on relationships rather than rounds of ammunition and armor levels.

For Hughes, empathy and what he calls “emotional authenticity” are the focal points for the design of Burden of Command. The studio has set out a rather prickly design problem: synthesizing battlefield tactics and doctrine with moral decisions about how to respond to the needs of your men in a way that’s both historically accurate and engaging on a deep level. And to do this, they’ve shifted their focus away from rounds per minute statistics and onto the psychological concept of suppression—which is, essentially, the tactical application of fear.

“Most games treat firepower as the essence—I mean, pick a shooter. It’s all about landing those bullets, that’s how you win. Wargames too, for that matter, focus on firepower,” Hughes explained. “In our game, it’s all about fear of death. So when you fire at the enemy, you probably don’t kill them. If they’re not fools and running around in the open, they’re probably down on the ground, behind some cover, and you’re not going to hit them.”

You’ll also find an interview with Hughes here at the GrogHeads podcast.

PAXsims

At War on the Rocks, Michael Peck discusses what GMT Games’ Churchill might teach us about alliance politics.

The ultimate lesson of Churchill is that diplomacy matters. The game simulates this through cards and dice (players can make agreements among themselves, though the rules emphasize that these are notbinding). But the game beautifully illuminates how clever, incompetent or perhaps unlucky diplomacy at a conference table can profoundly influence a nation’s strategy.

Churchill also illustrates an essential truth of both alliances and marriages: conflict and cooperation must exist, even if in uneasy harmony. To defeat the Axis, the Allies must work together. America, Russia, and Britain will win some issues at the conference table, and lose others. There is no shame in not winning it all, as long as you win what you need.

Under the Trump administration, the U.S. State Department is losing seasoned diplomats. In fact, diplomacy and alliance-building seem to have lost ground to belligerent tweets and unilateral actions. But as Churchill the man and Churchill the game would agree, this is no strategy for victory.

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Red Team Journal continues to regularly feature items of interest to serious gamers, including recent blog posts on the important of addressing cognitive processes and bias, and frequent shortcomings of Red Team engagement.

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The Wavell Room recently discussed the “Utility of Wargaming.

War games create a training environment in which we can test ourselves against the frictions and frustrations of combat.  It allows us to model the impact of chance and improve both our planning and execution of military operations.  This article highlights the key themes from the HQ 20 Armoured Infantry Brigade (20 Brigade) experience of war gaming.  It aims to encourage others to take up war gaming as a serious professional development tool.  20 Brigade has used war gaming, specifically the Army designed Camberley Kreigsspiel, successfully to test plans and enable the execute. War gaming is also fun; it is a conversational team activity that players enjoy.  The key lesson for the Brigade is that it must be taken seriously and engaged with as we would any other battle.

PAXsims

The Asia Times offers some insights into the use of computer games and related technologies within China’s People’s Liberation Army:

Chinese soldiers are being encouraged to indulge their patriotic enthusiasm via computer games like Command & Conquer: Red Alert and its homemade shooter game Glorious Mission to hone their skills for national defense in the real world.

The People’s Liberation Army Daily says that artificial intelligence, computer games and wearable devices will be new tools to train commanders and new recruits in real-time strategy games with inputs from the country’s intelligence system to mock wartime conditions, and a raft of parameters adjustable to simulate different combat scenarios.

Glorious Mission has been criticised for trivializing the reality of war by presenting conflict as a video game, but an updated version has gone a step further by allowing gameplay on the Diaoyu Islands, or Senkaku in Japanese, which has been at the center of the bitter spat between Beijing and Tokyo over the past decade.

PAXsims

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The Atlantic has an interesting piece on how “The Shape of Ancient Dice Suggests Shifting Beliefs in Fate and Chance.”

Dice, in their standard six-sided form, seem like the simplest kind of device—almost a classic embodiment of chance. But a new study of more than 100 examples from the last 2,000 years or so unearthed in the Netherlands shows that they have not always looked exactly the way they do now. What’s more, the shifts in dice’s appearance may reflect people’s changing sense of what exactly is behind a roll—fate, or probability.

We’ve discussed before at PAXsims how dice and chance are perceived differently by different groups (such as hobby gamers and military officers), and also how game components embody cultural views and player expectations.

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The 2018 edition of the Geo-Political Simulator, “Power and Revolution,” is now available:

With the 2018 add-on, you can participate in the conquest of space and try to be the first to set foot on Martian soil,  battle cybercrime and use it to cripple your enemies, administer justice to the roster of terrorists to thwart attacks and step in to prevent World War Three by overthrowing the American president and neutralizing North Korea.

PAXsims

The Kickstarter for Nights of Fire is now live. Nights of Fire is a much-anticipated card-driven boardgame of confrontation in Budapest during the 1956 Hungarian Uprising, designed by Brian Train and David Turczi. The game can be played solo, cooperatively by 2 players, or by 1-2 players against a third opponent in charge of Soviet forces.

PAXsims

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According to the Daily Mail,A police simulation featuring hundreds of brawling soccer spectators invading a stadium has sparked outrage.”

The New South Wales Police scenario, played out at a secret training facility in Sydney’s west, soon raised the ire of soccer fans online.

Furious followers of the sport accused the police force of stereotyping and bias, saying they should focus on riots or violent cricket or rugby league fans instead.

You’ll find more on the story from Nine News.

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Meanwhile, at McGill University, there continues to be a great of conflict simulation work underway. Students in my POLI 490 conflict simulation design seminar are working on their projects (urban operations in Mosul, the Darfur War, and China’s One Belt One Road initiative). The class has also recently played demonstration games of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game and Islamic State: The Syria War as they explore the challenge of designing semi-cooperative games.

I’ve completed work on the “Crisis in Carana” game that I’ll be running at a forthcoming academic conference on urban religious conflict.

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Game briefings for Crisis in Carana. Note the ominous “People Who Don’t Like To Be Photographed” name tag…

Finally, this weekend is the CONNECTIONS NORTH 2018 miniconference on Saturday, followed by the DIRE STRAITS megagame on Sunday. It will be a busy weekend indeed!

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Last, and almost certainly least: the New Learning Times contains an interview with yours truly on serious gaming. You’ll find it here.

Simulation and gaming miscellany, winter solstice 2017 edition

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PAXsims is pleased to offer some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers. Whatever holidays you might celebrate, our best wishes from all of us to all of you!

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The Games for Change Festival 2018 will be held in New York on 28-30 June 2018.

Submit games and ideas for #G4C18

We are now accepting submissions for our 2018 G4C Festival. We welcome your ideas for sessions (talks, panels, workshops and demos) and game nominations for our annual G4C Awards. A limited number of submissions will be selected and receive complimentary passes to the Festival.

The Festival is a platform for all voices and backgrounds, and provides an opportunity to celebrate and reinforce G4C’s core values: diverse perspectives, creative and progressive thinking, respectful dialogue, and collaboration across industries and sectors. As such, our team of Festival curators will strive to highlight the work and achievements from underrepresented communities.

As we celebrate 15 years of Games for Change, we are not only reflecting on the amazing growth of the sector, but also exploring where the G4C community is headed over the next 15 years. What will be the pressing issues of the day? How will technology change the face of games? Who will have access to those technologies? How will these experiences create social change? Please propose session ideas that celebrate the past and explore the future for the games for change community!

Session Ideas

The 2018 Festival will focus on emerging areas in the impact games sector, each as a unique track of programming:

  • Neurogaming & Health
  • Civics & Social Impact
  • Games for Learning
  • VR for Change Summit

Have an idea for a talk that doesn’t fit in one of these tracks? Don’t worry — presentations, discussions, demos and challenging ideas outside of these topics are welcome too!

Deadline: February 7, 11:59 p.m. EST

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In Calgary, and want to learn more about AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game? I’ll be discussing the game design and running a session at the University of Calgary on 6 February 2018, as part of their International Development Week.

PAXsims

The ICONS Project announces a forthcoming online course on wargaming with ICONS Director (and PAXsims associate editor) Devin Ellis during the Winter 2018 term:

During the Winter 2018 term, ICONS Director Devin Ellis will be teaching an online class on wargaming. The course is offered through the Office of Extended Studies and is available to be taken by students and professionals alike. Please visit the OES website to find out how you (or perhaps one of your students!) can register for the class.

PAXsims

Reminder: the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory is looking to hire three new wargamers, with applications due January 14.

Also, if you saw the Dstl tweet announcing this, you might recognize the game being played—it’s the Reckoning of Vultures scenario from the Matrix Game Construction Kit (MaGCK).

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Last month we published an extensive report by Ben Moores on the design and play of his megagame on the Iran-Iraq war, Undeniable Victory. Now you can also hear him discuss it on the Last Turn Madness podcast.

On this episode Ben Moores discusses his recent megagame, “Undeniable Victory”, with Greg and the gang. He offers interesting insights into the design process, as well as reflection upon what worked well and what needs improvement, and how his design philosophy fits into the wider megagame ecosystem.

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The Australian Army’s professional development website, The Cove, features a small unit tactical QDE (Quick Decision Exercise), Loy Manara:

You are the Section Commander of C/S 11A, an infanty section within a battle group deployed to Takistan. Your section is conducting a dismounted patrol to clear enemy within your Tactical Area of Responsibility (TAOR). A Reconnaissance Patrol has sighted an enemy Vehicle Check Point on a Main Supply Route within your TAOR. The time now is 0800….

You’ll find the full QDE here. Such exercises are included in most copies of the remarkably practical Australian Army publication Smart Soldier.

PAXsims

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Ezra Sidran has launched a Kickstarter to support development of his digital wargame, General Staff.

The General Staff Wargame is a computer wargame designed to simulate any land battle from the 17th, 18th or 19th century using the TIGER/MATE AI system (papers describing the underlying principles and algorithms of this AI can be downloaded here and here). Later versions of General Staff will cover the ‘Ancients’ and ‘Modern’ periods.

The General Staff Wargaming System is an easy to use wargame construction set. It consists of a suite of modules for creating armies, maps and scenarios. The 30 most popular (as voted by our fans) battles are included free for Kickstarter backers.

PAXsims

In the better-late-than-never category, we (belatedly) bring to your attention Illustrating a Model-Game-Model Paradigm for Using Human Wargames in Analysis, a working paper authored by Paul Davis for RAND back in February 2017.

This paper proposes and illustrates an analysis-centric paradigm (model-game-model or what might be better called model-exercise-model in some cases) for relating human wargaming to modeling and analysis. It is especially useful when considerable prior knowledge has already been captured in a model but the model may not adequately address the breadth and richness of issues and options that actual decisionmakers need to consider. Other paradigms are more useful when, for example, no good model exists initially, when the premium is on finding fresh boundary-bursting ideas, or when it is crucial to involve stakeholders in model development from the outset. The model-game-model paradigm was illustrated in an application to crisis planning on the Korean peninsula. It included development of an initial theory-based model, design of a war game to explore qualitative matters (e.g., options, criteria for evaluation, and uncertainty), and execution of such a game in Seoul, South Korea. The game confirmed many aspects of the model but revealed shortcomings that led to model enrichment with additional options and considerations. All of this illustrated successfully one cycle of the model-game-model process. Further cycles are planned.

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Montréal is well-known for constant road repairs and construction—and frequent corruption in the construction sector. That led a couple of gamers to design a game called—what else—Construction & Corruption.

The CBC reports:

Getting stuck in traffic on Highway 40 proved inspiring for two Montrealers who created a board game poking fun at the city’s well-known ailments, called Construction & Corruption.

The game was designed by multimedia editor David Loach and co-creator Frank Perrin.

“The game features a lot of negotiation. Bribes and promises are frequent, but never binding,” Loach said.

The board is a map of Montreal with zones shaded different colours and highways crossing the map.

Players get contracts and can decide where to put work crews. They can also vote for a mayor who, in turn, can reward or punish the players.

Construction & Corruption takes about two hours to play and whoever has the most money at the end wins. (Submitted by David Loach)

Work is delayed to earn more money and the game ends with a federal investigation. Whoever has the most money at that point wins.

Loach said that every time someone double-crosses another player, the game gets more hilarious.

“Test players comment that they feel dirty when they play it. You end up collaborating with some people and then turning your back on them,” he said.

The Montreal Gazette also has a report. You’ll find their KickStarter for the game here. As a Montreal resident, I’m a backer!

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For a more serious examination of gaming corruption, see my July 2017 presentation to Dstl on the subject.

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Simulation and gaming miscellany, 12 November 2017

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PAXsims is pleased to present a number of items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers.

Have any material for us to include in a future edition? Send it on!

PAXsims

DARPA—the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency—recently issued a request for information (DARPA-SN-18-06) for a “Foundations for Strategic Mechanism Design.”

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Defense Sciences Office (DSO) is requesting information on mathematical and algorithmic foundations for the practical design and assessment of strategic mechanisms. Of ultimate interest are capabilities to strategically assess and manage the actions of state and non-state actors utilizing a mixture of economic, diplomatic, social, and military options. Development of strategic mechanisms will require the integration of recent advances in game theory, behavioral economics, computer science, and artificial intelligence.

Definitions that are relevant for responding to the RFI are:

  • Mechanism design: The art of designing the rules of a game to achieve a specific

    desired outcome1 and can be viewed as a game theoretic “inverse problem.”

  • Mechanisms are protocols to incent collective decision making among self-interested agents2 and common examples are auctions and voting schemes.
  • Strategic mechanisms are defined here as structures and rules engineered to achieve desired strategic outcomes such as deterrence or coercion.

    Currently, the tools to meaningfully assess the likelihood or viability of strategic actions are limited to combinations of wargaming and modeling. Each of these tools has multiple limitations. Wargaming at the strategic level is decision centric and heavily dependent on both priming of the players and the question construction to elicit meaningful responses. Even when successful, defining strategies that can achieve objectives requires repeated assessment of scenarios that must be carefully constructed. This wargaming “art” can be complemented by modeling methods to capture details that may influence decision makers (e.g., relative combat power of military assets), but principled inclusion of relevant factors such as adversarial reasoning, information warfare, and economic incentives is lacking. Given the changing nature of conflict3, consideration of these factors is critical.

Defense Systems offers an explanation of what this is supposed to be:

DARPA’s Foundations for Strategic Mechanism Design wants to see whether it’s possible to devise a better high-level wargame that will prevent the U.S. from being surprised by the actions of an adversary, or enable the U.S. to surprise an opponent with its own actions. However, the game that DARPA envisions is the opposite of the usual Pentagon simulation: while most military war gaming aims to determine how a given plan might work out if implemented, DARPA wants a game with a predetermined outcome. The game is there to tell the military how to achieve it.

“We would want to shift from a ‘simulation’ mindset to thinking about the creation of the rules of the game itself,” DARPA spokesman Jared Adams told Defense Systems. “For someone that has done a lot of war gaming, this is the hardest part: designing the scenario, objectives and rules of the players to explore certain decisions in an intelligent way. We want to do the inverse problem: given a desired set of strategic outcomes, could you define the rules of the game in such a way that the decisions will lead to that?”

This isn’t a new technique. In some versions of alternative futures analysis or “backcasting,” analysts are asked to work backwards from assigned outcomes to determine the most plausible paths whereby that outcome might occur. Done well, they help to identify inflection points, critical junctures, key drivers/variables, and possible warning indicators. It can also be useful to help establish what needs to happen for a particular policy end-state to be achieved.

Usually this is done by an analysts, analytical team, or discussed in a seminar/BOGSAT setting, not run as a kind of reverse-engineered computational (war)game. To be frank, having taken part in such analysis, I’m not convinced a game would add much compared to a well-run group discussion. However, DARPA is all about experimenting with new approaches, technologies, and capabilities, so it will be interesting to see what they come up with.

h/t Michael Peck, and ensuing Facebook discussion with Christopher Weuve and Eric Monroe Walters .PAXsims

According to The Telegraph, “The German army has war-gamed the break up of the European Union in study of security crises that could face the country by  2040.”

No, not exactly. If one actually checks out the original report in Der Spiegel, the Germany military has simply produced a strategic forecasting product similar to the US National Intelligence Council Global Trends studies or the UK Ministry of Defence Global Strategic Trends reports. Some of the scenarios in it are rosy. Others are not (via Google translate).

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In the sixth scenario, the worst (“the EU in disintegration and Germany in reactive mode”), Bundeswehr strategists assume a “multiple confrontation”. The future projection describes a world in which the international order erodes after “decades of instability”, the value systems worldwide diverge and globalization is stopped.

“EU enlargement has been largely abandoned, more states have left the community, and Europe has lost global competitiveness in many areas,” the authors write. “The increasingly disorderly, sometimes chaotic and conflict-prone world has dramatically changed the security environment of Germany and Europe.”

The Guardian describes the report as “contingency plans,” which is overstating things a bit too. Such forecasting exercises are usually intended to spark critical thought, and may impact policy in a very indirect way, but fall short of “planning” in any meaningful sense.

From the Der Spiegel report there is no evidence that anything was wargamed at all. The scenarios would, however, certainly make interesting settings to explore using wargaming methods.

PAXsims

At The American Conservative, Harry Kazianis warns that he fought a war against Iran—and it ended badly:

Back in 2013, a group of my colleagues did a series of wargames on what would happen if Iran and America ended up in a conflict. Held at a secret location in think-tank land here in D.C., we sketched out the various possible pathways to conflict, what each side’s war aims and strategy would be, and how such a conflict could end. While the game was conducted off the record, considering where U.S.-Iran relations seem to be headed, my fellow wargamers have allowed me to share the details of one of three scenarios in an effort to promote a better understanding of the risks involved if the bombs really do start falling.

In the most intense of our three-day wargaming scenarios, we looked at a situation in 2020 where U.S.-Iranian relations had been souring for several years. Both sides are jockeying for position over a geopolitical chessboard stretching from Lebanon all the way to Afghanistan. In this scenario, Tehran is becoming increasingly upset over U.S. naval forces building up and exercising in the Persian Gulf. To make its displeasure known, Iran decides to test a salvo of intermediate range missiles that fly far into the Indian Ocean—with an ICBM test looming in the next few months. The situation then gets infinitely more complex when U.S. intelligence is tipped off that a second barrage of missile tests is being prepped, and destroys them in mid-flight thanks to U.S. missile defenses in the area.

Our wargame begins when Tehran responds, deciding to conduct large-scale naval exercises near the Strait of Hormuz. Iran also declares a naval exclusion zone, which essentially closes the important waterway for what would be a week of training drills—all to show off Tehran’s growing military power and ability to roil oil markets.

You’ll find more details at the link above.

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The most recent Foreign Policy magazine PeaceGame, produced in cooperation with the Emirates Diplomatic Academy and Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, was aimed not at experts and policy-makers, but budding young diplomats. According to the press release from FP:

The Future Diplomats PeaceGame brought together a select group of students of leading diplomatic academies from 21 countries and five continents. Looking to emerging foreign-policy challenges, the Future Diplomats PeaceGame took on the topic of cyber threats. Mohammed Al Dhaheri, one of the participants in the PeaceGame, said: “Being part of this event for the first time proved to be a revelation. I was able to appreciate and experience first-hand the challenges in dealing with people with different perspectives. It taught me that an understanding of varied world views is critical to finding a common space where we can cooperate to arrive at a solution that works for all of us.”

The first day of the event was dedicated to training with some of the leading experts in cybersecurity, defense, and diplomacy. Sessions focused on the critical issues in this rapidly evolving field of international relations, with a special emphasis on the interaction with broader foreign-policy challenges.

On Day 2, the Future Diplomats took on the role of key international stakeholders, navigating a series of simulated cyber events with the potential to escalate into full-blown conflict that required them to explore ways in which they could advance their country’s interests while achieving a peaceful outcome. The moderated discussions were presided over by a panel that combined decades of experience at the highest levels in both cybersecurity and diplomacy, providing expert commentary and context throughout the proceedings.

PAXsims

Also at Foreign Policy, a recent article by Benjamin Soloway looks at Project Azriel, a “first person shooter zombie-themed video game cognitive trainer tough enough to build fluid intelligence without boring you to death.”

Deanna Terzian, the president of CurriculaWorks, says the goal of the game is to “enter-train” its users. Other developers, she says, have tried including cognitive training tasks in games, but without weaving them in at a fundamental level.

“What we’ve done is we’ve integrated the cognitive training into the gameplay so when you are shooting the zombies you are actually using the mental set switching tasks,” she told Foreign Policy in an interview. “You’re using your mind to determine which weapon to use in order to take down the zombies as they’re coming at you.”

So, the question is, can you make cognitive training fun by weaving in a hunt for zombies? The company is trying to create a game that will convince players to do “something that is arduous but good for them,” Terzian says. “That’s part of our development philosophy: We like to add a spoonful of sugar to do things that are good for you.”

The game is currently available in early-access edition on Steam.

PAXsims

The Ohio State National Security Crisis Simulation recently ran a two-day series of crisis games.

The simulation places law, policy, intelligence, military, and communications students in their respective roles. It begins with the world as it is. Students draw on everything they have learned so far in their education as they respond in real time to new inputs from the Simulation Control Team, and dynamically to decisions by other players. Together with an elite group of seasoned practitioners in top roles–including federal judges, legislators, and retired generals–students must work as parts of multi-profession teams and use multi-institution processes to solve problems ripped from the headlines. The simulation’s architects present the players with realistic dilemmas and pressures of time, personality, information, consequence, and ethics. Ultimately, the exercise’s outcomes are determined by player decisions.

This year “students averted nuclear war, passed a congressional spending bill and halted an armed insurrection. And learned some valuable lessons.” You’ll find more details here, courtesy of Ohio State News.

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The 15th annual American Political Science Association Teaching & Learning Conference will be held in Baltimore on 2-4 February 2018. As usual, the conference will include a simulation and gaming track.

Simulations and Games
Simulations and games can immerse students in an environment that enables them to experience the decision-making processes of real-world political actors. Examples include in-person and online role-play scenarios like the Model European Union and ICONS, off-the-shelf board games, Reacting to the Past, and exercises that model subjects like poverty, institutions of government, and ethnic conflict. This track will examine topics such as the effects of gamification of course content on student motivation and engagement, cognitive and affective outcomes from simulations and games in comparison to other teaching techniques, and the contexts in which the use of simulations and games makes sense for the instructor.

PAXsims

Back in August, the long-running Extra Credits series produced a video on peace games, and the role that games might play in promoting cooperation and positive interaction. We forgot to post it at the time, but here it is now.

PAXsims

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 12 October 2017

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PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers.

PAXsims

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At War on the Rocks, PAXsims associate editor Ellie Bartels discusses how to incorporate wargaming into a cycle of research to explore future challenges:

What will the future wars look like? Fiction offers a range of answers — some contradictory. Is the priority urban security as depicted in the dystopian sci-fi world of Judge Dredd, or warfare in space shown in the sci-fi series The Expanse? Will advances in autonomy bring robot overlords like the Terminator or help-mates like Tony Stark’s Jarvis? Figuring out what the future may look like — and what concepts and technology we should invest in now to be prepared — is hard. To do it well we need to consider how America might take advantage of different futures. To this end former Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work and Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff challenged the wargaming community to build a cycle of research to help understand what these paths might be.

But what is the cycle of research? Put simply it’s a process for using multiple tools with different strengths and weaknesses to examine the same problem from many angles, which a range of gamedesigners recommend. Like any other method, games have limitations: They produce a specific type of knowledge that is helpful in answering some questions, but not others. Games cannot be expected to provide a credible prediction of the performance of a new weapon or detailed understanding of the cost of acquiring a platform. However, by using gaming in conjunction with modeling and exercises different types of evidence can be gathered that should yield stronger results.

But what should the cycle look like if it is going to help us understand the future of conflict? Based on my practice as a national security game designer, I’ve found the following five steps can help guide effective follow-on analysis….

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On October 9-10, Foreign Policy magazine, in partnership with the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and Harvard University’s Belfer Center, held their latest PeaceGame in Brussels. The topic this time was the conflict in Libya:

[The PeaceGame] brings together leading minds in national security policy, international affairs, academia, business, and media to “game out” how we can achieve peace, using as much creativity and seriousness as is devoted to war games.  In so doing, the PeaceGame seeks to redefine how we think about conflict resolution and the possibility of peace. Bringing the series to Europe for the first time, the 8th edition of the PeaceGame focused on identifying practical solutions to the crisis in Libya – a matter that is of great mutual interest to both Europe and the MENA region. Participants in this PeaceGame explored two scenarios. The first scenario took on implementation of the new Libya Action Plan and the associated internal political and security challenges. The second turned to the broader regional security and humanitarian risks. Within the bounds of their roles, participants sought opportunities for positive change, as well as strategies for mitigating risk and de-escalation. The event was conducted under Chatham House Rule to allow participants to speak with maximum candor and creativity.

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According to the Marine Corps Times, the Marine Corps Commandant wants a sophisticated,  virtual reality “holodeck” to enable fast, sophisticated digital wargaming.

In the future, Marine commanders will be able to conduct large-scale exercises in a holodeck straight out of “Star Trek, The Next Generation,” the Corps’ top general said on Wednesday.

Right now, the Marine Corps uses simulations to train individuals, such as pilots or vehicle drivers, said Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller.

“What I’m looking for is a simulation where a battalion or squadron commander or a regimental or a group commander or a division, wing or MEF [Marine Expeditionary Force] or a corps commander can go in and not have to put thousands of people on the battlespace and in the air and actually get them to do a repetition,” Neller said. “That is going to take some time.”

Simulation capabilities would allow commanders to run scenarios against future threats to gauge what equipment and tactics are most needed to succeed.

Corps officials are looking at what resources would be necessary to have a virtual wargaming facility at Quantico for Marine Corps University students to hold such exercises, Neller said.Neller spoke at the Marine Corps League’s annual Modern Day Marine expo in Quantico, Virginia, where officials said on Tuesday that the Corps plans to increase the number of virtual wargames it holds annually from 11 to 20 over the next three to five years. Those plans could involve building a new center to house the simulation technology.

<p>“In a perfect world, it would be like Jean-Luc Picard in ‘Star Trek,’” Neller said. “I’d walk into the holodeck and I’d go, ’Computer, Battle of Waterloo, 1812, Prussian army, I am in command, simulation — go.’ That’ll be here one day. You and I probably won’t see it. That’s what we need. We need the reps because we can’t afford to make a mistake in the fight.”

Of course, the technology would be remarkable (and probably expensive, slow to adapt, and rapidly dated). An important first step, however, would to promote among junior and senior officers a better understanding of what wargaming can and cannot do, and to emphasize genuinely adaptive and agile human-in-the-loop adversaries with a mandate to challenge and win.

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The Wall Street Journal warned last month that “After Multiple Invasions, the U.S. Army Is Getting Tired of Liberating Atropia.”

“Candidly,” says Lt. Col. Joe Buccino of the 82nd Airborne Division, a veteran of multiple Atropia actions, “having liberated that place four times in 15 months, it is about time we let the Atropians provide security for themselves.”

Atropia’s problem, it seems, is reality. It keeps interfering with an elaborately constructed military-training scenario.

The U.S. Army’s training command in 2012 developed a rich back story for various ersatz countries in its war games. The fictional country of Atropia, according to the playbook, is a pro-western dictatorship. The Army ordered its training centers adopt the scenario.

Soldiers, like Col. Buccino, soon tired of rerunning the same old script. Bigger problems with Atropia arose when some European U.S. allies balked at the idea of propping up faux dictators—even if the blood on their hands was only stage paint.

The U.S., its NATO allies, Russia and other militaries around the world use fictional scenarios to make their military drills more sophisticated. They require soldiers to understand the political environment and motivations of the people they are trying to protect, and defeat.

In Atropia, the problem was maps. The fictional country exists so that Western allies can learn to cooperate. But imaginary national boundaries superimposed onto actual geography stirred friction.

Atropia’s borders roughly coincide with Azerbaijan. Neighboring Limaria, a made-up country, coincides with Armenia. The fake country of Kemalia is roughly equivalent to Turkey. In 2014, Turkey’s top general wrote to the head of U.S. European Command complaining that a historically Turkish town was inside the boundary of Limaria, not Kemalia.

Maps used in war games use the fictional names. PHOTO: U.S. ARMY

“They weren’t fooled by the fake names,” says a U.S. official. “It caused a diplomatic kerfuffle.”

Turkish officials did not comment on the episode.

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Late last month, The Strategy Bridge featured an excellent piece entitled “Wei Qi or Won’t Xi: The Siren Call of Chinese Strategic Culture,” by Lauren Dickey. In it she warns about the dagers of treating Chinese thought as more exotic than it actually is.

To believe, however, that there is a uniqueness to how Chinese strategy knits together ways and means in the pursuit of political ends risks over-complicating the study of Chinese strategic behavior. Indeed, to endeavor to interpret not only how Chinese traditions—such as Sun Tzu’s fortune cookie stratagems—guide decision-making but to further ascertain how individuals at the apex of the Chinese central government are applying such guidance is a formidable, subjective task for which even the most adept Sinologist or strategist is likely under-qualified. Rather than assuming culture alone drives strategic behavior, such studies should be conducted alongside rigorous examinations of the other elements of statecraft.

I was particularly pleased to see her criticize simplistic efforts to link culture and strategic thought through the supposed exemplars of popular national games—something I warned about in PAXsims a few months ago.

Finally, as masters at the game of Go (weiqi), Chinese strategists are purportedly engaged in a protracted war, maximizing their own advantages while considering the long-term outcomes of strategic decisions. This chess-like game traces back to the literati, generals, and statesman from the Han Dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD); its objective is, simply, to control territory on the game board through the strategic placement of black or white stones.[15] The successful Go player will engage in moves, posturing, and tests of the opponent’s resolve. As the game continues and the board becomes more layered with pieces, players must simultaneously defend against the adversary on multiple fronts. In other words, the game of Go transforms into a “competition between two nations over multiple interest areas.”[16] To assume that Chinese defense planners were raised playing this strategic board game, and that such formative experiences continue to shape their thinking today, is a precarious assumption at best. Even if true, does an avid Go player—or in a Western context, a diehard Risk or Settlers of Catan gamer—have the operational knowledge or qualifications to translate strategy at the conceptual level of board games into national or military strategy? The impact of such strategic games upon the individual strategist is undoubtedly highly subjective. Thus, if anything is to be garnered from the Chinese tradition of Go and similar games in the West, it should be that the formulation and implementation of strategy and gains of each player are dependent upon the choices of the opponent. Whether one is playing Go, Risk, or Catan, strategic success is created through tactics of deception, coercion, and compellence—concepts which transcend cultural traditions.[17]

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Corbyn Run.

In New Statesman, Julia Rampen examines “How an obscure board game led to Labour’s gamification of power.”

[Shadow chancellor John] McDonnell told the Labour party conference on Tuesday that his economic team would be playing war games to prepare for government, with the help of an academic called Richard Barbrook. Internet sleuths soon tracked down the site Barbrook helped set up, Class Wargames. The site’s main attraction is the video’s subject, Game of War, which was reconstructed ten years ago by group of artists, software developers and political activists from an original developed by a left-wing Marxist theorist, Guy Debord.

Barbrook himself also hints that the Game of War shouldn’t be taken entirely seriously. “That’s an art project we did,” he tells me of the whole Class Wargames site. A political scientist, Barbrook has introduced gamification into the courses he has taught, and it seems like a natural extension to apply similar theories to his work with the Labour party. As well as co-ordinating Labour’s digital manifesto, he was involved in the creation of Corbyn Run, an online game launched during the 2017 general election. In it, the player, using an avatar of Jeremy Corbyn, shakes down bankers in order to collect money for the budget.

Barbrook was at the Labour party conference in part to launch Games for the Many, a pro-Corbyn games website. Launches include an improved version of Corbyn Run – “even Jeremy’s playing it, he thought it was hilarious” – and new works in the pipeline, including the working title of “Tinder for Canvassers”, which Barbrook says was coined by McDonnell himself.

The war games planned for the shadow economics team will not be quite as edgy, with participants seated round a table and asked to make decisions in a variety of situations, which have consequences. Experts will be invited to attend, such as former Bank of England officials. “We’d ideally have the whole shadow cabinet playing,” says Barbrook.

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In a forthcoming article in Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, Miron Lakomy examines “Jihadi Propaganda in the World of Electronic Entertainment.”

This paper argues that video games have become a valid and increasingly significant means of jihadist digital propaganda. “Gaming jihad” has recently shown interesting alterations, mostly due to actions undertaken by the so called Islamic State and its cyber-partisans, which have discovered new ways of using this flexible and immersive medium. Similar to more conventional forms of its online propaganda, which have been imitated by other Islamist terrorist groups for years, the “Caliphate’s” exploitation of electronic entertainment software may be a forerunner for the increased interest of other VEOs in this medium.

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At The Forward, Michael Peck looks at the history of Israel through wargames. UPDATE: Ooops, I hadn’t noticed the date on this (2013). We’ll leave it here anyway.

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Amid the heighten profile of white supremicists, neoNazis, and the “alt-Right” in the United Stated, killing simulating Nazis in videogames has apparently become controversial in some quarters. However, Bethesda—publishers of the forthcoming first person shooter game Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus—have made it clear where they stand.

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PC Gamer takes up the story:

To its credit, Bethesda isn’t trying to soften or backpedal on the message. In fact, Pete Hines, the studio’s vice president of marketing and PR, is doubling down on it. “Wolfenstein has been a decidedly anti-Nazi series since the first release more than 20 years ago. We aren’t going to shy away from what the game is about,” he told GamesIndustry. “We don’t feel it’s a reach for us to say Nazis are bad and un-American, and we’re not worried about being on the right side of history here.”

“[In the game] freeing America is the first step to freeing the world. So the idea of #NoMoreNazis in America is, in fact, what the entire game (and franchise) is about. Our campaign leans into that sentiment, and it unfortunately happens to highlight current events in the real world.”

He clarified that Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus wasn’t developed as a commentary on the current political climate in the US, echoing comments made in August by developer Machinegames. He called it a “pure coincidence” that it’s coming out at a time when Nazis are marching in American streets, but added that it’s “disturbing” that some people find its out-loud anti-Nazi stance to be controversial.

“This is what our game is about. It’s what this franchise has always been about. We aren’t afraid to embrace what BJ stands for and what Wolfenstein represents,” Hines said. “When it comes to Nazis, you can put us down in the ‘against’ column.”

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In August, Jeremy Antley wrote at Real Life about the challenge of modelling global war terrorism and counterterrorism in a boardgame, through the lens of Labyrinth (GMT Games 2010) and its post-Arab Spring update, Labyrinth: The Awakening.

Perhaps most telling is the new card for Jihadi John. It resembles the Jihadist Videos card from the original card set, in that each depicts jihadists staring into the camera, suggesting an intention of using the internet to spread propaganda. But while the Jihadist Videos card is a jihadist event and has imagery, text, and game effect that suggests the videos in question are meant for a predominantly non-Western, Muslim audience, the Jihadi John card — a neutral card — suggests something different. No longer an anonymous/ubiquitous extremist, Jihadi John is depicted as a celebrity, in every grotesque meaning of the word, whose decapitations are tailor-made spectacles for Western audiences.

It is as if the West cannot help but be captivated by the appearance of Jihadi John, even as it finds his actions abhorrent. He cannot be othered, even if his purpose is to clearly demarcate one culture from another, because his YouTube presence calls into question what it means to be other in the first place. His perfect English, his background and upbringing in the birthplace of the modern liberal order, appears to contrast with his avowed beliefs and demonstrates the relative failure of Western modernity to shape and produce its ideal citizens.

Here the streamlined history and simplified ideological reading of the conflict serves only to highlight the murkiness of self-reflection prompted by the desire for verisimilitude. Seeking understanding of Jihadi John in the form of a Labyrinth event card reveals not only the limits of the game’s design but also the limits of board games as a whole as technologies of representation. Successfully addressing the joint issues of playability and verisimilitude makes ideological indoctrination seamlessly pleasurable, but not all subjects — such as the use of technology as depicted in Labyrinth: The Awakening — can transition into simplified ideological forms. When this tension between playability and understanding becomes apparent, as it does with the Jihadi John event card, it upsets the pleasure of play and muddies the otherwise clear view of history the game tries to let players experience.

PAXsims

Back in July, Russia Today did a review of Putin Strikes (One Small Step, 2016). The review was up to their usual incisive journalistic standards.

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Want to understand how game theory can help explain the emergence of social trust? The Evolution of Trust is a very cool video/game/multimedia presentation by Nicky Case that should help.

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The Irish comedy group Foil Arms and Hog consider what happens when an Englishman plays RISK.

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 26 July 2017

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PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers—and we don’t care who you love, or what gender you identify as.

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The Strategy Bridge recently featured an article by MAJ GEN Charles A. Flynn and CAPT Lorenzo Ruiz entitled “Beyond Checkers and Chess: What Junior Leaders Can Do to Develop Strategic Thinking.”

To better explore the value of developing strategic understanding in junior leaders, this article explores flaws in strategic thinking by looking at the game of chess, a game of perfect information, a single objective, defined territory, and no regard for the state of the board after victory. Next, it looks at how the Chinese game of Wei Ch’i can offer solutions for framing a better way of thinking strategically: by focusing on positions of advantage, working with uncertainty, and linking efforts to achieve end-state conditions. Using the lessons of Wei Ch’i, we then look at how the U.S. Army’s operational variables can help us identify comparative advantages and how thinking with strategic empathy helps us understand adversaries and solve the right problems.[6] Finally, we discuss the importance of senior leaders in shaping the problem-solving skills of the next generation of strategic leaders.

The article also introduces formal, rational choice game theory as another lens through which to view strategic issues.

I don’t disagree with their main argument:

Chess may be good to sharpen the tactical mind, but strategy requires setting conditions beyond the battlefield, identifying comparative advantages by analyzing adversarial interactions, seeking positional advantage in the physical, informational, and electromagnetic environments, and contributing efforts to achieve political objectives. By recognizing what drives our adversaries’ actions we can more accurately apply diplomacy to keep the peace, but when required out think and outmaneuver enemies in times of war. We can use tools like the operational variables to identify conditions and interactions, the “Five Whys” to perform root-cause analysis ensuring we are solving the right problems, and game theory to improve our strategic empathy. The tacticization of strategy must be reversed. Junior leaders must start early and view their tactical actions with a strategic mind. These are just some suggestions that can help leaders at all levels avoid the strategic failures of our past.

However, while chess is a poor analogy for challenges of military strategy, I’m not sure that Wei Ch’i (Go) is much better—it may have more potential moves, but it also is a game of perfect information, devoid of the fog and friction of both wartime and peacetime strategic interaction. There is a reason, after all, why Clausewitz suggested that card games were the best parallel, given their uncertainty, imperfect information, and need to balance uncertain risk and opportunity.

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More fundamentally, however, it is important to get away from the rather frequent habit of trying to characterize national strategic characteristics through stereotypical national games.

Sure, it is easy and fun to do:

  • The Chinese play Go (and this explains their sneaky creation of islands encircling ever larger parts of the South China Sea)!
  • Middle Easterners play backgammon —which explains why ISIS builds its sanctuaries in far-away corners!
  • The British imported Chutes and Ladders (Snakes and Ladders) from India, and added to it some pious moralizing about British values, which is why PM Cameron gambled on an EU referendum and they’ve now fallen into the pit of Brexit!
  • Gonggi, a traditional Korean children’s game, involves throwing stones in the air—much like testing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles!
  • Russian matryoshka nesting dolls can collude perfectly!
  • Americans invented Monopoly, which tells you all you need to know about capitalist neoimperialism!

…except there is very little evidence that either game playing or national strategy varies in such simplistic ways. Indeed, the social science evidence is rather stronger that military officers play games rather like other military officers and rather unlike civilians, that youth may play differently than their elders, and that everyone plays differently if you reframe the game in different terms. Moreover, strategy is a multilevel game, wherein organizational process and domestic politics can be significant determinants of geopolitical behaviour.

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At Foreign Policy, Paul McLeary reports on major NATO and Russian military exercises:

Tens of thousands of troops are on the move from the Baltic to the Black Sea, as NATO and Russia open up a series of massive military exercises the size of which the continent hasn’t seen since the Cold War.

Both sides claim the drills, which involve aircraft, warships, tanks and artillery, are purely defensive in nature. But it is clear the exercises are also meant to show off new capabilities and technologies, and display not only the strength of alliances, but how swiftly troops and heavy equipment can move to squash a threat at the frontier.

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Bury Me, My Love is a mobile game to be released on IOS and Android in September 2017 that depicts the challenges facing Syrian refugees:

Description

Bury me, my Love is a text-message-based game about Nour, a Syrian migrant trying to find her way to Europe. Her husband Majd remained in Syria; he will attempt, through a messaging app, to advise her as best he can so that she reaches her destination safely.

History

Bury me, my Love is a “reality-inspired game,” a documented fiction which draws inspiration directly from real-world events. The original idea stems from an article written by Le Monde.fr journalist Lucie Soullier that tells the story of Dana, a young Syrian woman who fled her country and is now living in Germany.

The article offers an insight into Syrian migrants journey through their use of WhatsApp. Indeed, cell phone has become a vital tool for Syrian trying to reach Europe, as it allows them to take useful pieces of advice and to be supported by their relatives. Thus, it appeared relevant to Florent Maurin, game designer and founder of The Pixel Hunt, to create a game that replicates the interface of a messaging app. In Bury me, my Love, you will have to help and support a Syrian migrant called Nour through text messages, emojis and even selfies.

Bury me, my Love is developed by The Pixel Hunt and Figs and co-produced by ARTE. Its story is co-written by Florent Maurin and journalist Pierre Corbinais (the creator of reference websites l’Oujevipo and Shake That Button), with the help of Dana and Lucie who are editorial consultants on the project. Thanks to these two women, Bury me, my Love can recreate the experience of a migrant woman on her way from Syria to Europe as realistically as possible.

“Bury me, my love” is an arabic expression meaning “Take care”, “Don’t even think about dying before I do”. You might say it to a loved one before going separate ways. That’s what Majd said to his wife Nour when she hit the road to Europe.

Drawing inspiration from real-time interactive fictions as well as the growing popularity of the WhatsApp messenger, Bury me, my Love is allowing the player to walk in Majd’s shoes. Armed only with his cell phone, Majd will have to support his loved one through some of the most difficult times of her life. How will he help Nour overcome the difficulties she encounters? He will be able to track her progress as she moves from one city to the next, and together they will have to make choices that could have dire consequences.

Bury me, my Love benefits from a financial help allowed by the Fonds d’Aide au Jeu Vidéo of the Centre National du Cinéma (the French Ministry of Culture’s national agency for moving images).

Bury me, my Love is a “reality-inspired game,” a documented fiction which draws inspiration directly from real-world events. The original idea stems from an article written by Le Monde.fr journalist Lucie Soullier that tells the story of Dana, a young Syrian woman who fled her country and is now living in Germany.

The article offers an insight into Syrian migrants journey through their use of WhatsApp. Indeed, cell phone has become a vital tool for Syrian trying to reach Europe, as it allows them to take useful pieces of advice and to be supported by their relatives. Thus, it appeared relevant to Florent Maurin, game designer and founder of The Pixel Hunt, to create a game that replicates the interface of a messaging app. In Bury me, my Love, you will have to help and support a Syrian migrant called Nour through text messages, emojis and even selfies.

Bury me, my Love is developed by The Pixel Hunt and Figs and co-produced by ARTE. Its story is co-written by Florent Maurin and journalist Pierre Corbinais (the creator of reference websites l’Oujevipo and Shake That Button), with the help of Dana and Lucie who are editorial consultants on the project. Thanks to these two women, Bury me, my Love can recreate the experience of a migrant woman on her way from Syria to Europe as realistically as possible.

“Bury me, my love” is an arabic expression meaning “Take care”, “Don’t even think about dying before I do”. You might say it to a loved one before going separate ways. That’s what Majd said to his wife Nour when she hit the road to Europe.

Drawing inspiration from real-time interactive fictions as well as the growing popularity of the WhatsApp messenger, Bury me, my Love is allowing the player to walk in Majd’s shoes. Armed only with his cell phone, Majd will have to support his loved one through some of the most difficult times of her life. How will he help Nour overcome the difficulties she encounters? He will be able to track her progress as she moves from one city to the next, and together they will have to make choices that could have dire consequences.

Bury me, my Love benefits from a financial help allowed by the Fonds d’Aide au Jeu Vidéo of the Centre National du Cinéma (the French Ministry of Culture’s national agency for moving images).

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PAXsims

On a somewhat similar note, the VRefugees project seeks to build empathy for the plight of refugees through virtual reality.

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JoLT (a collaboration between American University’s GameLab and School of Communication) has developed Factitiousa “Fake News” browser game, designed to test a player’s ability to distinguish real and false news stories.

PAXsims

The full programme for the October 2017 annual conference of the North American Simulation and Gaming Association (NASAGA) is now available.

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The latest edition of the podcast Last Turn Madness discusses the recent Urban Nightmare: State of Chaos megagame with game designer Jim Wallman. Even if the zombie apocalypse isn’t your thing, the session offers plenty of insight into wide-area or distributed gaming, involving multiple, simultaneous linked game locations.

Simulation and gaming miscellany, July 4 edition

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Happy July 4th, American readers! To mark the occasion, PAXsims is pleased to bring you some recent items on conflict simulations and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming.

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Polygon recently featured a piece on “The art and craft of making board games for the CIA,” looking at the design work of Volko Ruhnke.

Featured in the piece are several pictures of Kingpin:

A good example of the kind of work that he does is a project called Kingpin: The Hunt for El Chapo, which he co-designed with another instructor in the Defense Intelligence Agency. Kingpin uses the historical details of the capture of Sinaloa drug cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán as well as some fictional elements to create a challenging, asymmetrical game.

Kingpin is an adversarial game where one side plays the role of law enforcement and the other plays the role of Guzmán’s own handlers and associates. The goal is to teach analysts about the use of intelligence resources in tracking someone down.

The game revolves around hidden information, with each side playing on their own hidden game board behind a screen. El Chapo’s team is constantly moving around inside Mexico trying to evade the law, but the cartel leader has certain tastes and expectations. He’s not just willing to sit inside a hole somewhere and is interested in leading an active, social lifestyle. Law enforcement has to use that against him. In the classroom the game is played twice, with students taking turns playing on both sides of the table.

h/t Marc Guenette

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Hans-Wolfgang Lodi (Heriot-Watt University) has started a LinkedIn group on “History & Games” to support efforts to use digital and board games in education and to bring together people interested in his work on the JominiEngine.

The JominiEngine is an emerging, distributed, scalable game engine for historical massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs). Core game and system design principles of this engine are historical accuracy of the game model and scalability of the system to large numbers of players. The intended application domain is education in history, to provide an “interactive history“ experience. Specifically, the engine has been instantiated to a concrete game, Overlord: Age of Magna Carta, a game set on mainland Britain in the time period of 1194-1225.

The implementation of the game engine focuses on modularity, extensibility and scalability, so that it can be instantiated for different time periods, and extended to also cover different application domains. We therefore view this game engine as a “motherboard“ for developing educational tools with varying topic areas and learning objectives. Technically outstanding features of the implementation are the use of Riak as a non-SQL database and of C# as a programming language.

You’ll find the group here.

In addition, on July 14 there will be an event on serious gaming in Edinburgh:

Where: Blackwells Bookshop Edinburgh South Bridge, 53-59 South Bridge
When: Friday 14th July, 2017 (5:30pm-9:00pm)
Web: http://www.macs.hw.ac.uk/~hwloidl/Projects/JominiEngine/workshop17.html

Learn about Serious Games and play some historical games to learn about history

The main goal of this event is to give an overview of the use of Serious Games in Education, in particular in the learning domain of history, and to experience some historical games through live gameplay sessions. This event aims to bring together various stakeholders and experts in education, game design, game development, and systems development, as well as anyone with a general interest in historical games. The format of the workshop will be: short, overview-style presentations and game demos to start with. The main part of the event will be several game-play events running in parallel to give participants an opportunity to try some games, and finally a discussion session reflecting on the experience from the game-play sessions. A list of games on offer will be posted here closer to the event.

This event is part of a longer-term effort in the development of a game engine, the JominiEngine as a practical teaching tool in the domain of history education. We hope to build a community of interested partners out of this workshop and solicit input for the further development of the engine and for the setting of priorities. For further information, check out the poster, the slides and the papers on the publications section of the main web page for the JominiEngine.

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Frostpunk is forthcoming city-building survival sim from the 11 Bit Studio, the same people who brought us This War of Mine.

Rock Paper Shotgun offers a preview:

In the first week, we put the children to work. They weren’t forced into dangerous jobs, so we told ourselves, but when you’re living on the brink of extinction, what work is truly safe? One afternoon, a man collecting coal complained of numbness in his arm. Frostbite had taken hold. We could have left him to die but instead we opted for an experimental treatment.

He lost the arm and he’s no longer capable of contributing to our dying society. One more mouth to feed with no body of work beneath it. What should we do?

Though it’s a science fiction story, set in a frozen future barely capable of sustaining human life, it shares some of that previous title’s contemporary concerns. Climate change is the obvious one, this being a world undone by a dramatic temperature shift, but as you dig into the details, there are questions about equality, labour and the scarcity of natural resources that make the crater-town of Frostpunk an unhappy microcosm of just about every society you might choose to name.

It’s also an icy cocktail of cinematic and real world inspirations: the crash of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 (filmed as Alive), Aron Ralston’s Utahmputation (filmed as 127 Hours) and Captain America and the railway children (filmed as Snowpiercer), among many others. There’s also a rich vein of Victoriana, but not simply in the [Blank]Punk sense; here there are shadows of the workhouse and Blake’s ‘weeping chimneysweep.’ The beating hea(r)t of the generator that keeps these people alive is also the new birth of an industrial age, and the factories and mines operate on blood and sweat.

Your job is not just to plan, it’s to inspire, or at least to ensure that hope doesn’t die out. It’s as vital to survival as the flames of the generator and how unusual it is to see Discontent and Hope listed as gauges of success. There are more conventional resources as well, particularly coal in the early stages, but you’re trying to support life rather than mere existence.

Frostpunk is a difficult game. Not in terms of the challenge it presents but in the way it is marrying two distinct genres and forcing bleak decision-making that is tied to its systems rather than its narrative. There is a story to uncover, which will presumably tell us something about how the world came to be as it is, and whether anything like a happy ending is possible. You can learn a little about the world beyond your crater by sending out expeditions, and through balloon-related observation, but the generator is home. And home is where the heart breaks.

h/t James Sterrett

PAXsims

According to Breaking Defence, US Pacific Command wants and additional $49 million “for “multi-domain battle exercises,” wargames testing a new Army-led concept for future warfare against high-tech adversaries.”

That’s Russia and China to rest of us.

h/t Mark Wallace

PAXsims

Back in May, before the British general election, New Statesman ran the Conservative Party manifesto through the politics simulation/game Democracy 3. You can find out the results here.

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Apparently actual Nazis and white supremacists are upset at the portrayal of Nazis in the trailer for the forthcoming first-person shooter, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus.

Awww.

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On a final note, I’ll be spending next week discussing wargames with Her Majesty’s loyal subjects at the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory. The trip to Dstl provides a golden opportunity to show off the MaGCK (Matrix Game Construction Kit) prototype and to double the size of my Dstl Portsdown West mug collection.

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I’ll post a (suitably-vetted) report to PAXsims upon my return.

PAXsims

 

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 2 June 2017

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PAXsims is pleased to present a number of items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers. James Sterrett contributed to this latest edition.

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pic859584_md.jpgAt First Person Scholar, Jeremy Antley discusses “Remodeling the Labyrinth: Player-Led Efforts to Update GMT’s War on Terror Wargame.” Specifically he explores how players proposed and undertook updates of Volko Ruhnke’s wargame Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001- (GMT Games, 2010) during and after regional politics in the Middle East were reshaped by the “Arab Spring” of 2011—notably through online discussions at BoardGameGeek and ConsimWorld. He focuses particular attention on the use of event cards as a game mechanism, a representation of history, and focus of player discussions:

While event cards comprise only a portion of the materials found in Labyrinth, their role as abstracted arbiters of reality sustains and reinforces the simulative model to a degree not matched by other elements.  This, combined with their extra-legal nature, allows designers and players alike to utilize event cards for the purpose of injecting their own augmentative or corrective point of view.  Because wargames emphasize the production of knowledge from play, this means that event cards need to distill their subjects using montage, and ensure that the resulting creations act as epistemic reservoirs in service to the operation of Labyrinth’s model.  Debates over player-created event cards such as ‘Curveball’ and ‘Snowden’ reveal the seriousness behind getting this process right.  That players focused their efforts on crafting new event cards to update perceived deficiencies in Labyrinth’s original model speaks volumes to the expectations held by these players in relation to the wargames they play.  Time spent with a wargame’s simulative model is expected to be productive.  Creating new event cards became, in this regard, not only preferable but also essential if Labyrinth players wanted their games to keep pace with current events.

You’ll find a PAXsims review of the game here. GMT Games subsequently published an expansion/update by Trevor Bender and Volko Ruhnke, Labyrinth: The Awakening, 2010– ? (2016). This is still sitting on my bookshelf, awaiting play—and when I do I’ll certainly post a review to PAXsims.

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At the Active Learning in Political Science blog there is some interesting discussion of emotion, engagement, immersion, and empathy in simulations.

Simon Usherwood first raised the issue in the immediate aftermath of the Manchester terrorist attack. This prompted Chad Raymond to note the problem of students acting too rationally and technocratically in a recent South China Sea simulation:

It is very difficult to get students to understand, in a self perspective-altering rather than an I-remember-what-the-book-said way, the emotional and psychological dimensions of political behavior. Simulations, though they often touted as effective at generating this kind of learning, may not be any better at this than other methods. My own attempts at empirically validating these kinds of outcomes with several different teaching methods have pretty much been failures. How do you get the typical American college student — often an 18- or 19-year old who has never traveled internationally nor has a deep relationship with anyone outside of his or her particular ethnic group or socioeconomic bracket — to temporarily step outside of his or her own feelings and experience what it’s like to be someone else?

Finally, Usherwood returns to the question, and suggests three potential solutions:

First option is to drown the students in detail. Chad’s only given his students a handful of things to think about/work with, so it’s understandable that they focus on these. If you’ve got the time and space, then giving them a whole lot more to handle/juggle makes it much harder for them to act rationally.

Which leads logically to the second option: starving the students. In Chad’s case, that might mean not even giving them what he has done, so that they come to it much more impressionistically and irrationally.

His third option—to “ju-jitsu your way out“—involves building on, modifying, and learning from what others have done:

So if you’re struggling to make your simulation work, why not look around at what others are doing and see if you can get their thing to work for you. If you’re not feeling so sharing-y, then you can also reflect on the other things you do: that’s how I developed the parliament game over its iterations, with its purpose being constructed backwards from what it actually did (which wasn’t what I’d set out to do).

We heartily agree.

On this same subject, this is a great time to recommend—not for the first time—the seminal 2011 Naval War College Review article by Peter Perla and ED McGrady, “Why Wargaming Works.”

We propose the idea that gaming’s transformative power grows out of its particular connections to storytelling; we find in a combination of elements from traditional narrative theory and contemporary neuroscience the germ of our thesis—that gaming, as a story-living experience, engages the human brain, and hence the human being participating in a game, in ways more akin to real-life experience than to reading a novel or watching a video. By creating for its participants a synthetic experience, gaming gives them palpable and powerful insights that help them prepare better for dealing with complex and uncertain situations in the future. We contend that the use of gaming to transform individual participants—in particular, key decision makers—is an important, indeed essential, source of successful organiza- tional and societal adaptation to that uncertain future….

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In March the Forage Center for Peacebuilding and Humanitarian Education held its annual “Atlantic Promise” field exercise:

This year’s exercise scenario allowed students to become members of a fictitious humanitarian assistance organization and assist a population in conflict after a Category 4 hurricane. The exercise purposely combines students from different schools to build interpersonal relationships, teamwork, and negotiation skills under stressful situations.

Students from Tulane University were among those who participated, and there’s a short account of their experiences on the university website.

The simulation will next be run in November, retitled “Coastal Hope.”

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The latest issue of ICONS News contains, among other items, a link to their latest promotional video.

The video contains sultry narrative tones of PAXsims associate editor Devin Ellis, so it’s obviously not to be missed! The ICONS Project can be found here.

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On the subject of newsletters, the Spring 2017 update from the World Peace game is also available.

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Last month the US Naval War College reported on a technology upgrade to its wargaming:

The capstone wargame for international students at U.S. Naval War College (NWC) has undergone a huge improvement this year, replacing oversized game boards and ‘paper ship’ game pieces with a new computer application that uses touch-screen technology and allows multiple player usage.

The 65 students taking the intermediate-level course through the Naval Staff College (NSC) are now using cutting-edge technology in their annual year-end event, which took place May 5.

NSC courses are composed predominately of international students who were divided into Blue and Gold coalition teams that crowded the wargame floor to compete.

The wargame was introduced as the final event of the academic calendar for the class three years ago. The purpose of the game is to allow students to put the theories of operational planning that they have learned at the college into practical use.

“This game is a culmination of the academics the students have learned during the year with concentration on military planning, communication, cooperation and leadership,” said Jeff Landsman, game director and associate professor in NWC’s Wargaming Department. “We bring all of these concepts into a practical exercise, allowing the students to work in an experiential and knowledge-based setting. Additionally, the new technology lets the wargaming faculty execute a more interactive and efficient game.”

Developing the new computer simulation started after last year’s game. The project really starting taking shape in the new year.

“The game was pretty much created from scratch. We customized the [game] grid and a few of the other components,” said Anthony Rocchio, lead program developer for the simulation. “It really came together in the last couple months. The scoring function was started on Tuesday and finished Wednesday, for instance.”

The two coalitions then conducted separate planning sessions and briefed their respective courses of action (COAs) to the Wargaming Department faculty. These COAs were then executed during game play.

“This innovative, current, computer-based simulation more accurately reflects real-world situations that the students could face as they operate in the joint maritime environment,” said Landsman.

The application also allows a simultaneous feed of the results of the game into the two teams’ planning groups so they can plan future moves with better, more updated information.

The new computer-based simulation has many other advantages, according to Landsman.

“The new simulation brings a better understanding of the operational and strategic level complexities, barriers and collaboration when applying national and multinational sea power,” he said. “They get a better look at decision making, leadership, theater complexities, and joint and combined maritime operations. This is a very valuable upgrade for the students.”

PAXsims

Brian Train went to the US Army War College a few weeks ago, and you’ll find his report here.

Fortunately for me, he also showed up at the annual CanGames gaming convention in Ottawa a few days later.

PAXsims

Back in March, Gamasutra featured a discussion of This War of Mine (which James Sterrett reviewed back in 2014 for PAXsims).

The boardgame version of This War of Mine, launched as a Kickstarter project, has just been shipped—and I’m eagerly awaiting mine. I’ll review it as soon as it arrives and I find time to give it a try.

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Observant readers will notice this “finding time to play” is becoming a bit of a theme—largely because I have so many game projects on the go. These include the Matrix Game Construction Kit (or MaGCK), together with PAXsims collaborators Tom Fisher and Tom Mouat; the Montreal edition of the July 1 wide-area megagame, Urban Nightmare: State of Chaos (UNSOC); a variety of game-related presentations in a repeat appearance at the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) next month; codesigning a South China Sea game with Jim Wallman for Connections UK in September (unlike UNSOC, this one should be zombie-free); and another crisis game for a government client in the fall (again, with Tom Fisher).

So many games, so little time…

Simulation and gaming miscellany, International Tabletop Day 2017 edition

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Geek & Sundry has declared April 29 to be International Tabletop Day, and we at PAXsims are happy to celebrate the occasion with some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (or not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers.

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How might Brexit negotiations go? Back in January 2016, Open Europe “wargamed” possible British-EU negotiations. According to the The Economist:

…the second part of the war games, a mock-up of how the EU would respond to a vote for Brexit, was worse. Lord Lamont, a former Tory chancellor of the exchequer representing Britain, argued that an “amicable divorce” was in everybody’s interests. Britain could negotiate a trade deal similar to Canada’s, liberating it from EU rules, including free movement of people. He even volunteered to pay something into the EU budget.

Yet other countries were unimpressed. John Bruton, a former prime minister representing Ireland, said Brexit would be seen as an “unfriendly act” and would threaten the peace process in Northern Ireland (Enda Kenny, Ireland’s real prime minister, made a similar point after meeting Mr Cameron on the same day). Steffen Kampeter, a former deputy finance minister representing Germany, said Britain would not be allowed to cherry-pick the benefits of membership without the costs. Mr de Gucht noted that a new trade deal would be negotiated by the European Commission and national governments with minimal British input. He and others added that they would try to shift Europe’s financial centre from London.

The starkest warning came from Leszek Balcerowicz, a former deputy prime minister representing Poland. He said the priority would be to deter populists in other countries who wanted to copy Brexit. For this reason Britain would be punished by its partners even if that seemed to be against their interests. Mr Cameron’s negotiations may be hard, but they are a picnic compared with what he would face were he to lose his referendum.

Earlier this year, students at the Blavatnik School of Government (University of Oxford) also conducted a Brexit simulation:

In our simulation, British negotiators successfully deployed “divide and conquer” tactics, particularly when individual member states became sympathetic to the UK’s domestic constraints and frustrated with the slow pace of talks. Michel Barnier and the European Commission were at their most effective when they framed issues through the indivisibility of the “four freedoms”. However, when it became apparent member states were willing to forgo freedom of movement, EU leverage was sharply diminished.

The participants in our simulation recognised the close economic relationship between the EU and the UK. On finance and the City, discussions centred on how to make “equivalence” work post-Brexit, with some creative proposals to sidestep the ECJ. However, in trade the UK quickly announced its decision to step out of both the Single Market and the Customs Union, leaving detailed negotiations for a future FTA until after Brexit.

Despite this mutual reliance, the Brexit talks might still shift to a game in which the two players seek to inflict pain on one another. In part this is because preserving the EU is seen to require a demonstration that leaving the club comes at a significant economic price, even though this would leave both worse off than under the status quo.

You can find additional discussion of classroom simulation of Brexit negotiations at the Active Learning in Political Science blog.

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NASAGA (the North American Simulation and Gaming Association) has podcasts! The latest edition by Sonya and Nicholas Wolfram explores “designed and emergent narrative” in game design.

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Following the US decision to respond to Syrian chemical weapon use at Khan Shaykhun with a punitive strike on April 7 against a Syrian air base, the always-interesting Red Team Journal used the event to highlight the importance of “Asking the Right Questions (Before and After).” In doing so, they noted the potential contribution of red teaming methodologies.

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You’ll find their full discussion here.

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At Small Wars Journal, Spencer B. Meredith III recently discussed “Reclaiming Strategic Initiative in the Not-So-Gray Zone: Winning Big Conflicts Inside Small Ones.” In the article he has some very positive things to say about the value of wargames and other simulations:

The first example occurred during a recent US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) Senior Leader Seminar looking at competition short of armed conflict. Framed as a wargame, this seminar simulated several scenarios where traditional power politics and violent extremism collided. Participants were asked to dig deeply into the underlying causes of threats, and how perceptions shape everything from core interests to immediate grievances. Yet the event did much more than explain why stability is so elusive, and peace even more so. It also raised several key areas where the United States and its partner nations can mutually support each other.

One centrally important area is in building responsive governance. The notion rests on several claims, foremost that nations and the governments that govern them need not homogenize their interests, to say nothing of values, in order to cooperate. This pragmatism stands in contrast to nearly three decades of idealistic foreign policy that claimed the universality of certain collective goods, but which really defined them along a US-centric vision of what they needed to look like, even when the substance was foreign to the nations being “helped”. This idealistic vision took many forms, from economic liberalization that forced developing markets open through IMF austerity measures; to military imposition of democracy in places that had neither centralized governance capacity, nor the social consensus to build it; to more recent social reengineering to fit a narrow vision of Western pluralism. All have run headlong into local values, competing national interests, and ultimately, contending visions of what the global order should look like and what leadership among peer and near-peer rivals can realistically be.

Responsive governance also requires that states establish and defend parameters for public debate. Yet like pragmatism, this does not have to mean democracy in any particular form. NATO partner nations have a range of electoral systems that speak to a variety of cultural, historical, and normative differences about who should govern, how, and under what constraints. By relying on the core concept of responsivity, rather than the vastly over-used “democracy”, the analytical frameworks expressed in the USSOCOM event have traction within solid scholarly research, and equally important, with buy-in from partner nations on whom the United States will continue to rely and give support.

There is particular praise for a series of simulations designed and run by the ICONS Project:

Administered for the Joint Staff SMA program, the University of Maryland runs a series of simulations designed to provide short, sharp scenarios that evolve over multiple iterations. Harnessing real-world events and massaging them into realistic near-term future situations, the ICONS project (International Communication & Negotiation Simulations) brings together subject matter experts to play various roles in real-time, web-based engagements. Several lessons emerge from the simulations. The most important are the complexity of the problems each party faces, and the battle for strategic initiative as more ebb and flow than a sole power defending against all comers. These perspectives provide vital reminders for both academia and practitioners with our respective checklists for analyzing the “facts on the ground”. In addition, the potency for non-state spoilers remains incredibly high, higher than a cursory glance of the configuration of forces would otherwise reveal. Much like small parties in coalition political systems that can swing the balance of power either way, non-state proxies can serve as force multipliers for larger states, as much as independent agents seeking their own highest good at the expense of others. The ICONS simulations highlight these challenges, while providing avenues for practical courses of action for the United States and its partners of concern.

I don’t doubt the value of ICONS simulations—they’re excellent. However I’ll admit to a certain degree of cynicism about the conceptual utility of “grey zones”—that messy area, short of full-scale armed conflict, where politics, diplomacy, social and economic economic forces, covert action, and violence interact. Specifically:

  1. It has always been thus. Pretty much the entire history of European colonial expansion involved all that stuff, for example. Supposed civil society actors (the Royal Geographical Society) working in hand with national governments! Foreign “volunteer” troops in local wars! Bribery! Subsidies for friendly potentates and warlords! Piracy! Local alliances! Powerful social and economic forces! Trade agreements as an instrument of national power! It’s all so new.
  2. The notion of grey zones risks becoming the self-licking ice cream cone of national security discourse, where people eagerly frame things as “grey zone” aggression when they actually have far more prosaic explanations. This was certainly one of the accidental findings of last year’s Atlantic Council simulation on conflict in the Gulf.
  3. The rest of us call this “political science.”
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Russian “little green men” caught in the act of gray/grey zone conflict Crimea? No, this is the British East India Company in Madras. Their British officers and advisors declined to be painted, citing operational security.

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Simulation and gaming miscellany, 26 March 2017

wordle260317.pngIt may be a week or more before I am able to post much of anything to PAXsims—McGill University’s annual Brynania civil war simulation starts on Monday, involving 120 players and 73 hours of game play spread over 8 days. The class will generate around 12,000 email messages for me to read, which is why I’ll be more than a little busy

You’ll find an article on the simulation here, and a TV Mcgill video here.

Before all that organized chaos is unleashed, however, here is a quick collection of items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) games that may be of interest to PAXsims readers.

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The McGill International Review is published by the International Relations Students’ Association of McGill (IRSAM), who were cosponsors of our recent War in Binni megagame. The ly recently published an interview with me on using simulation games in the classroom:

Though intrinsically fun on their own, he stresses that, as a learning tool, they serve a purpose and, as such, ought to be used to enhance course material. In Peacebuilding, for instance, it is difficult to convey, through readings and lecture, how challenging it is to repatriate refugees or run transitional elections. On paper, much of the theory behind peacebuilding makes sense, yet it is harder to understand how exactly and why the carefully designed plans may fall apart through competing interests. One can certainly read and attempt to theoretically understand why challenges to the peacebuilding process may arise and for what reasons, but there is a level of understanding and appreciation that can be achieved more effectively by having students run into those problems in a simulated setting and experience them first-hand. By contrast, other classes, such as Developing Areas/ Middle East (POLI 340), don’t feature simulations. The volume of information in the course, coupled with how much more easily concepts can be conveyed through lecture or readings, renders simulations more useless than useful.

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Strategy Bridge will be featuring a number of articles on the methodology and strategic importance of wargaming next week, and indeed throughout 2017. They are also looking for contributions:

This latest series on #wargaming will spend this week analyzing that process and assess factors that may be overlooked. The Strategy Bridge has lined up a broad community of subject matter experts and stakeholders to explore several types of wargames to spark a conversation not only about how we design war games, but also about how we communicate the critical lessons learned.

The #wargaming series will continue beyond the next week with map exercises in the tradition of Moltke the Elder and the “Great General Staff,” but updated for the operational and strategic realities facing today’s warfighters across the globe. These will be published on the third week of each month for the next year.

We hope you join this conversation on how best to employ the art and science of wargames to support, prepare, and develop strategic thinkers. If you have ideas to share, we invite you to submit your pieces to The Strategy Bridge and engage with us on Twitter @Strategy_Bridge.

At some point my own thoughts on “Wargaming unpredictable adversaries (and unreliable allies)” will be appearing as part of the series. It’s hard to imagine why that has suddenly become relevant

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A recent panel discussion at the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference resulted in the appearance of several media articles on the use of card and boardgames at the CIA.

CNN, for example, reported:

Dungeons and Dragons, Pokémon card games and role-playing games are more than entertainment — they’re inspiration for the CIA.

David Clopper, senior collection analyst with 16 years’ experience at the CIA, also serves as a game maker for the agency. From card games to board games, Clopper creates games to train CIA staffers including intelligence officers and political analysts for real-world situations.

“Gaming is part of the human condition. Why not take advantage of that and incorporate into the way we learn?” Clopper said Sunday at a games-themed panel discussion at the South by Southwest Interactive technology festival. Clopper and other CIA officers discussed how the agency uses games to teach strategy, intelligence gathering and collaboration.

lso speaking on the panel was Volko Ruhnke, who is an intelligence educator at the CIA and a freelance game designer. Ruhnke said he is particularly interested in one type of game: a simulation tabletop game to train analysts and help with analytic tasks. It could help forecast complex situations by forcing players to handle multiple scenarios simultaneously.

Similarly, at Gizmodo:

The Central Intelligence Agency needs to make sure its operatives are at the top of their game, so maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise games have become one of the agency’s most popular training tools?

At this year’s SXSW, the CIA debuted a series of internal training board games, card games, and RPGs that are used to train officers in the art of intelligence gathering and problem-solving. These include Collection, a Pandemic-like board game where analysts collaborate to solve international crises, and Collection Deck, a card game where mazes and monsters are replaced by satellite photos and government red tape. There’s also one where you try to capture El Chapo, which teaches collaboration with other law enforcement agencies.

According to CIA Senior Collection Analyst David Clopper, who first started developing the program in 2008, the board games are a creative way to quiz officers on their vast pool of knowledge and problem-solving skills. These games are basically one long Google interview quiz—they’re tough, detailed, and unforgiving. They also encourage players to work together toward a common goal, a necessary skill in intelligence gathering.

PAXsims

Earlier this month Georgetown University held its annual National Security Crisis Law simulation—this time with a contingent of Canadian law students participating too:

Georgetown Law’s National Security Crisis Law simulation — the equivalent of a final exam for students in Professor Laura Donohue and Alan Cohn’s National Security Crisis Law Class — went international in Spring 2017. For the first time, Canadian national security lawyers and students from the University of Ottawa and Osgoode Hall Law Schools joined this fast-paced and purposefully chaotic Georgetown tradition, held at the Law Center March 3 and 4.

While the real Canadian Prime Minister and National Security Advisor couldn’t be there, Mylène Bouzigon and Jennifer Poirer from the Canadian Department of Justice stepped into those roles admirably. The Canadian students, meanwhile, did an excellent job portraying Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Defense, Minister of Health, Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and others. The Georgetown Law students, along with a team from Penn Law, played U.S. state and federal officials.

Together, the students dealt with legal and factual issues ranging from pandemic disease and natural disaster to cyber attacks on the critical infrastructure.  A “Control Team” of more than 40 alumni who work in the national security field were central to the simulation’s success.

“Before, the simulation was U.S.-centric. Now we have the border issues. We have events north and south with repercussions for each country.  And we have joint operations,” Donohue explained. “This has also given us a rich opportunity to compare how different countries interpret international law, and how those differences play out in terms of negotiations and policy decisions.”

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On March 27, the folks at MMOWGLI (Massive Multiplayer Online Wargame Leveraging the Internet) will be running a simulation/crowdsource discussion on future challenges facing the US Navy. If you wish to take part there may still be time to sign up.

This game is not about the humans vs. the computers, rather it imagines the U.S. Navy as the world moves towards the two singularities provided in the Call to Action Video.  Our hope is that the ideas you produce are about how humans and computers can work better together so that the Kurzweil singularity (Singularity 1) is beneficial to both instead of causing humanity to be left behind.

Similarly, we don’t see the complexity described in Singularity 2 as a bad thing. We’re looking for organizational ideas that embrace complexity and allow the U.S. Navy to excel in that complex environment.  The metaphor of a tidal wave of change can be viewed as something that will swamp us if we are not careful, but we’re looking for ideas that will allow us to ride that wave and harness its potential and energy to use it as a way to propel us forwards.

Finally, the two singularities are presented in a “yin-yang” type format, whereby players may contribute to one or both columns.  However, we feel that there may be times when the singularities will merge, work together and/or impact one another.  While we’re not explicitly asking you to make this connection, please keep it in mind when you move onto the second phase of the mmowgli.

PAXsims

On March 1, David Shiplak (RAND Center for Gaming) testified to the Committee on Armed Services, Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces of the US House of Representatives on “Deterring Russian Aggression in the Baltic States: What it Takes to Win.”

RAND has conducted a series of war games—more than 20, over a period now approaching three years—that have demonstrated that NATO’s current posture is woefully inadequate to resist a Russian attack on the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. We had participants from throughout the U.S. defense and intelligence communities at these war games, as well as our NATO allies. In no case have they been able to keep Russian forces from the Estonian capital of Tallinn or the Latvian capital of Riga for more than 60 hours; in some cases, NATO’s defeat has been written into history in a day and a half. Such an outcome would leave the United States and NATO with no good options, Russia potentially re-established as the dominant strategic actor in Central Europe, NATO collapsed, and the trans-Atlantic security bond in tatters. It would make a failure of nearly 75 years of bipartisan American efforts to sustain the security of Europe, which Democrats and Republicans alike, since Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, have understood to be vital to the safety and prosperity of the United States.

The first step towards winning eventually is not losing right now, which would be NATO’s current fate. So, NATO needs to be able to stay in the game. The minimum requirement for deterrence by denial along NATO’s frontier with Russia is not to offer Moscow a vision of an easy strategic victory—the chance to register a fait accompli against minimal resistance. While on any given day, the Russian leadership may not be tempted to seize even such tempting low- hanging fruit, the challenge NATO confronts is not successfully to deter on an average day; it is to deter on the one day out of a thousand, or 5,000, when Moscow, for whatever reason, sees the prospect of a crushing win over its most dangerous adversary as an attractive prospect.

The requirements for this are nontrivial, but hardly overwhelming. RAND analysis indicates that a force of about seven brigades, including, importantly three armor-heavy brigades—armor brigade combat teams (ABCTs), in U.S. Army parlance—in addition to the national defense forces of the Baltic states, and properly supported with fires, fixed- and rotary-wing aviation, engineering, logistics, and other enablers, and with adequate headquarters capacity for planning and command can prevent the fait accompli.3 To be very specific, this force—present and ready to fight at the outset of hostilities—can, if properly employed, enforce an operational pause on a Russian ground force of up to 40–50 battalion tactical groups (BTGs), while retaining sufficiently large lodgments outside Tallinn and Riga to protect them from the bulk of Russian artillery.

You’ll find a RAND video summary here.

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A forthcoming issue of the Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation: Applications, Methodology, Technology contains an article by Kathleen CarleyGeoffrey Morgan, and Michael Lanham on “Deterring the development and use of nuclear weapons: A multi-level modeling approach.”

We describe a multi-country, multi-stakeholder model for the accrual and use of nuclear weapons and illustrate the model’s value for addressing nuclear weapon proliferation issues using an historic Pacific Rim scenario. We instantiate the agent-based dynamic-network model for information and belief diffusion using data from subject matter experts and data mined from open source news documents. We present the techniques that supported model instantiation. A key feature of this model and these techniques is enabling rapid model reuse through the ability to instantiate at two levels: generically and for specific cases. We demonstrate these generic and specific cases using a scenario regarding North Korea’s interest in nuclear weapons and the resulting impact on the Pacific Rim circa 2014—that is, prior to the fourth and fifth nuclear weapons test by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. A key feature of this model is that it uses two levels of network interaction—country level and stakeholder level—thus supporting the inclusion of non-state actors and the assessment of complex scenarios. Using this model, we conducted virtual experiments in which we assessed the impact of alternative courses of action on the overall force posture and desire to develop and use nuclear weapons.

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The ICONS Project is looking for a strategic gaming intern in the Washington DC area:

Do you know of a student who is looking for an internship in the Washington, DC area this summer? We are looking for an upper-level undergraduate or a graduate level intern for the summer 2017 semester. Students help us by researching and updating current simulations, curating resources for our research library, and supporting our marketing and outreach initiatives. ICONS participates with the broader START internship program, which provides enrichment events and networking opportunities. Please encourage any interested students to apply via this link by April 4th.

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The latest edition of the always-excellent Extra Credits series of gaming videos addresses the issue of politics in games (and cultural media more general):

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A great many articles and handbooks on educational gaming argue for the approach with reference to how it engages various student “learning styles.” I’m happy to see a recent open letter to The Guardian by eminent scholars highlighting how little scientific foundation there is to all this:

Thirty eminent academics from the worlds of neuroscience, education and psychology have signed a letter to the Guardian voicing their concern about the popularity of the learning style approach among some teachers.

They say it is ineffective, a waste of resources and potentially even damaging as it can lead to a fixed approach that could impair pupils’ potential to apply or adapt themselves to different ways of learning.

The group opposes the theory that learning is more effective if pupils are taught using an individual approach identified as their personal “learning style”. Some pupils, for example, are identified as having a “listening” style and could therefore be taught with storytelling and discussion rather than written exercises.

The letter describes that approach as “one of a number of common neuromyths that do nothing to enhance education”. It is signed by Steven Pinker, Johnstone family professor of psychology at Harvard University; Dorothy Bishop, professor of developmental neuropsychology at the University of Oxford; and leading neuroscientist Prof Uta Frith of University College London among others.

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p01l9krq.jpgEarlier this year BBC Radio 4 broadcast Red and Blue, a series of three dramas by Philip Palmer “about military consultant Bradley Shoreham who creates war games for training purposes.”

Episode 1: Sacrifice

Shoreham’s challenging training scenario places Yorkshire at the centre of a global pandemic alert. Its credibility rests on thesuccessful recruitment of the formidable Dr. Hoffman.

Episode 2: Ransomware

Under constant threat from hackers, financial institutions take cyber-security very seriously. A City hedge fund has hired war-gaming expert Bradley Shoreham to test its networks in a planned exercise. Although barely computer literate himself, Shoreham has prepared a whole box of cyber tricks to do battle with the firm’s IT experts. And he’s prepared to play dirty in order to demonstrate how a multi-million pound business can be brought to its knees.

Episode 3: Shadow

Tom Wilson runs an oil rig in the North Sea. It’s a challenging job at the best of times. But today he’s being put through his paces by wargame exercise writer Bradley Shoreham who has invented all manner of crises to push him and his crew to the limit and beyond.

Unfortunately it isn’t currently available on iPlayer. An earlier series was broadcast in 2013.

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