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Category Archives: simulation and gaming miscellany

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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….

PAXsims

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.

PAXsims

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.

PAXsims

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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.

PAXsims

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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.

PAXsims

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.

PAXsims

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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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.

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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

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

PAXsims

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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.

PAXsims

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.

PAXsims

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 11 December 2016

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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 out readers. Aram Schvey and Corinne Goldberger suggested material for this latest edition.

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Two Billion Miles is an online interactive video account of the the journeys made by refugees and other migrants, developed by Channel 4 News (UK):

They fled their homes and made journeys through Europe to escape civil war, poverty and the misery of refugee camps.

Migrants who applied for asylum in Europe in 2015 have collectively travelled more than two billion miles; a conservative estimate based on the shortest over-land routes to European countries from their countries of origin. These 727,085 people travelled an average of 2,750 miles each.

Follow in the footsteps of migrants and refugees as they face the hardships of months on the road. Choose your route and make tough decisions in this interactive video story, featuring real footage from extraordinary journeys made this year.

PAXsims

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Several recent and forthcoming pieces in the Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation might be of interest:

Understanding climate-induced migration through computational modeling: A critical overview with guidance for future efforts
Charlotte Till, Jamie Haverkamp, Devin White, and Budhendra Bhaduri

If you haven’t been reading Jim Wallman’s thoughts on megagame design and facilitation at his blog, perhaps you should—it’s very interesting!

PAXsims

The Numbers, Wargames and Arsing About blog discusses the challenges of wargaming the current Iraqi/coalition campaign against ISIS, including the current Battle of Mosul.

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Civil Defence is a proposed boardgame about disaster reduction:

The simulation table top board game introduces the basics of disaster risk reduction and humanitarian action to players with or without any background in disaster risk reduction or humanitarian work. Francis shares that the design of the game was inspired by years of experience in social development work, humanitarian action, and disaster risk reduction. Some game scenarios were even based on the Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda experience and other real life events.

You’ll find more on the project here.

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Feedback from the recent Connections Australia wargaming conference can be found at their website. Powerpoint presentations and other material will be be made available shortly.

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Time Commanders is back on the BBC!

Hosted by Gregg Wallace, Time Commanders is the show that lets ordinary members of the public go toe to toe with the world’s greatest generals. Using cutting-edge simulations, they refight some of the most significant battles from history, offering an innovative mix of genuine history and game show competition.

You can read about the series and forthcoming episodes here.

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 2 October 2016

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

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A recent article in The Guardian offers an extensive discussion of “the rise and rise of tabletop gaming.”

We may now live in a world of Facebook, Pokémon Go, Netflix and iPads, but board-gaming is booming. Even the early 20th-century games explosion, which gave us such hardy perennials as Monopoly, Cluedo and Scrabble, has nothing on the current surge. Market research group NPD, which claims to measure around 70% of the UK toy trade, has recorded a 20% rise during the past year in the sales of tabletop games (including card and dice games, war games played with miniature figures and role-play titles such as Dungeons & Dragons, in which players imagine themselves as heroic warriors and wizards in imaginary, fantasy worlds)….

I’m pleased to see that my favourite central London games shop, the Orc’s Nest, gets a mention.

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If you play Dungeons & Dragons, be warned—”demons are out to destroy you!”

or so says Pat Robertson of the 700 Club.

Having played D&D since the very (boxed, three booklet) beginning, I have long found it to not only be fun and enjoyable, but also a way to develop interpersonal, narrative, and analytical skills. Experience in running a D&D or other RPG game is also a very good way of developing game facilitation skills—indeed, as I’ve previously suggested at PAXsims, being a RPG gamemaster may be better preparation for professional wargame or policy game facilitation than being a traditional hex-and-counter board hobbyist wargamer.

Has D&D or another roleplaying game contributed to your own professional game facilitation or design skills? If so, email me some comments on the subject and we will feature the responses in a future PAXsims post.

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A couple of weeks ago Ars Technica featured an article on the “explosive growth of the 300 player megagame.”

There’s a new kind of hybrid game doing the rounds that marries the large scale politicking of live-action roleplaying (LARPs) with the focused, often crunchy mechanics of an economic game. It’s played with dozens, even hundreds of players, it takes a whole day, and it has a clumsy sobriquet that perfectly encapsulates its grand ambition: the “megagame.”

Megagames have no strict definition, but here’s an outline of the (pretty typical) first one that I tried two years ago. Strange alien forces mass near the earth, alarming the world’s governments. Multiple teams of three-to-six players represent various nations, and teams take on roles like diplomats or military leaders. Each team plays its own straightforward game of economics to balance a country’s budget, fund the military, and direct scientific research.

These aspects of the game are all managed in “private play areas” depicting each country, but players also meet in more public areas to coordinate international strategic planning or to discuss diplomatic goals. They pore over a map of the world showing the movements of their armies and air forces. They huddle around a table that represents the UN. They forge alliances, compete to seize alien technology, and perform acts of espionage.

Occasionally a referee steps in to clarify a ruling or to announce a new event. Alien craft have been sighted on the Moon! Terrorists have kidnapped a head of state! Earthquakes! Perhaps there’s even a message from the aliens—who are played by another team of people kept separate from the action but nevertheless allowed to watch everything as the nations of earth banter and bicker.

This is Watch the Skies, only one kind of megagame, but so far the most popular. It’s enjoying replays and reinterpretations everywhere from Aberdeen to Australia. If your personal preference isn’t for the extraterrestrial, other megagames cover everything from military scenarios to Machiavellian historical intrigue. What they all have in common is a focus on social dynamics, independent referees who guide play and introduce new events, and a sense of scale that puts Diplomacy to shame.

They also share a lineage. UK-based Megagame Makers has been designing and playing these games for decades, long before Watch the Skies found breakout success. A key designer throughout much of this period has been Jim Wallman, and when I speak to him over Skype to ask the secret of a megagame’s success, I discover he has recently returned from a game in Canada and is consulting with the British military on simulating conflict scenarios….

You can read the full piece at the link above.

As for that “Jim Wallman” character, he was last seen in Canada running the New World Order 2035  megagame at McGill University, speaking at the Connections North wargaming miniconference, and leading a group of uncooperative juvenile Mooseketeers to safety during the zombie apocalypse….

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Jim Wallman in action at McGill University.

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Staff from the Strategic Simulations Division recently briefed MG Rapp, Commandant for the US Army War College, on matrix games—using the Kaliningrad 2017 game as an example.

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For additional details of the game, see this earlier PAXsims report by LTC David Barsness and Michelle Angert, as well as this playtest report from National Defense University.

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If you have played AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game, but haven’t rated or reviewed it at BoardGameGeek or The Game Crafter, please do—we welcome the feedback!

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He posted it back in early September, following the Connections UK conference, but we’ve been slow on updates: go and read Paul Vebber’s comments and presentation on wargaming and technology innovation at the Wargaming Connection blog.

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A Wargamer’s Needful Things is a collaborative blog by Jason Rimmer, Mike Wall, and  Robert Peterson that offers game reviews and thoughtful commentary on the wargaming hobby. They also have a current contest to win a free copy of a new book by Rick Priestly and John Lambshead, Tabletop Wargames: A Designers’ and Writers’ Handbook (Pen & Sword Publishing, 2016).

h/t Peter Perla, who won’t appreciate the extra competition to win! 

PAXsims

The draft programme for the 2017 Connections Oz interdisciplinary wargaming conference (5-6 December, University of Melbourne) has now been posted.

I wish I was attending—I participated last year and found it very productive (and enjoyable) indeed.

PAXsims

The 2016 North American Simulation and Gaming Association annual conference will be held on October 26-29 in Bloomington, Indiana. You’ll find further details at the NASAGA website.

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 24 August 2016

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

I’ll be off soon to participate in the day-long public event on wargaming in the classroom at the US Army War College on August 27, followed by running a matrix game for the UK Foreign Office and then participating in the always-excellent Connections UK professional wargaming conference at King’s College London on 6-8 September. Because of that, the next “simulations miscellany” update may not be until mid-September.

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A forthcoming issue of the British Journal of Educational Technology will contain an article by Matt Hardy and Sally Totman on “Teaching an old game new tricks: Long-term feedback on a re-designed online role play.”

Despite an extensive history of use in teaching Political Science subjects, long-term scholarly studies of online role plays are uncommon. This paper redresses that balance by presenting five years of data on the Middle East Politics Simulation. This online role play has been run since the 1990s and underwent significant technical upgrade in 2013–14. The data presented here covers student feedback to this upgrade process and the factors that can influence their response. Key indications are that students tend to recognise when something is fit (or not) for its purpose and will forgo attractive and well-appointed online environments if the underlying learning exercise is valued. However, there are limits to this minimalism and whilst designers do not need to replicate every Internet trend, attention needs to be paid to broader changes in technology, such as access platform and changing avenues of political communication. The study demonstrates that long-term monitoring of online role play exercises is important to allow informed changes to be implemented and their impacts properly assessed.

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Public health epidemiologist (Preparedness) Dr Henning Liljeqvist has used AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game to simulate working in humanitarian settings with students enrolled in the University of New South Wales/World Health Organization course on Communicable Diseases in Humanitarian Settings at the UNSW School of Public Health and Community Medicine. The video below shows how he ran the game in the classroom.

A few of the rules were modified to make things run more smoothly (for example, regarding logistics infrastructures upgrades). Of particular note, however, was the skillful way he debriefed the game, linking game processes to real-life humanitarian experiences, highlighting where the game was more or less realistic, and challenging students to think of their own modifications via use of the blank cards provided with AFTERSHOCK.

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At War is Boring, Robert Beckhusen argues that “U.S. Army Has Too Many Video Games.”

There’s just a few problems. Some of the Army’s virtual simulators sit collecting dust, and one of them is more expensive and less effective than live training. At one base, soldiers preferred to play mouse-and-keyboard games over a more “realistic” virtual room.

He is absolutely right in noting that many purpose-designed digital games and simulators get inadequate use in the military or prove unfit for their intended purpose (often for practical reasons of time, accessibility, flexibility, and so forth). There are also many good commercial off-the-shelf games that can be usefully integrated into training.

However, one has to be careful about arguing that “It’s unnecessary to strap soldiers into an immobile vehicle and make them scan a wrap-around screen if they can accomplish the same basic tasks with a mouse and keyboard.” A mouse and keyboard can be very unlike a real combat environment, and there is significant risk that soldiers will learn the skills and develop the muscle-memory to win the game—but not develop skills that translate well into actual combat environments. In many commercial games, for example, cover and visibility to not function much like the real thing, while AI opponents may act in unrealistic ways.

PAXsims

keep-calm-and-just-keep-ranting.pngThe use of commercial/hobby wargames in professional military education has much to commend it, as James Lacey (among others) has convincingly argued. On the other hand, professional wargaming addresses a broad array of analytical and educational purposes, not all of which are adequately served by off-the-shelf games. Moreover, while the hobby game experience can inform and contribute to professional game design and execution, it can be a bit of a blinder too if you aren’t careful.

I say all that because this current thread at BoardGameGeek on “revitalizing (manual) wargaming in the military” illustrates the tension well. In particular, read Brant Guillory’s truly epic rant on the topic. He’s right, too!

 

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 10 August 2016

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

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The Connections (US) interdisciplinary wargaming conference is currently underway at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. While we won’t be live-blogging the event, we do hope to past a conference report after it is finished courtesy of ace PAXsims investigative reporter, Tom Mouat.

Meanwhile August 15 is the  registration deadline for Connections UK, which will be held at King’s College London on 6-8 September 2016.

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US Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work will be the keynote speaker at the forthcoming MORS special meeting on wargaming (17-20 October, in Alexandria VA). You’ll find more details here.

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The BBC is planning to bring back Time Commanders—the television series where ordinary people team up to wargame historic battles—and they are looking for participants:

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Time Commanders, the popular historical military strategy series, where teams go head-to-head with some of the greatest generals from history, is back for a third series and we’re looking for teams of three to take part.

Are you an armchair general who could lead a team to victory?

Do you have the tactics to outwit the strategic advances of the opposition to command an empire?

In each show, two teams of three friends, family, or colleagues will take control of opposing ancient forces, facing our computer, pre-programmed by our historical experts, before they face off against each other in one of history’s biggest battles.

Time Commanders is produced for the BBC by Lion Television

To apply

Age limit: Applicants must be aged 18 years of age and over.

Please get in touch for more information or to apply for series 3 of Time Commanders.

Please tell us who would be in your team, how you know each other, and what it is about appearing on Time Commanders that appeals to you. Why would you make a successful team? Could you beat history’s greatest generals? What skills do you have that would help you to victory?

Phone number: 0141 331 6427
Email address: timecommanders@liontv.co.uk
Write:

Time Commanders
Lion Television
14 Royal Crescent
Glasgow
G3 7SL

Closing date: Thursday 1st September

The original series ran from 2003 to 2005 (and you’ll find many episodes on YouTube)

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At the US Naval Institute blog, Robert Kozloski discusses “building the naval battle lab.”

The naval services have led at wargaming for decades. Over the past few years, improvementsto analytical methods have resulted in game outcomes informing organizational decision-making processes. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that wargaming, and gameplay in general, serves as an excellent leadership development tool. In essence, traditional wargaming is a competition among participants based on a scenario that is conducted in a turn-based manner. They make people think and solve problems. This same process is easily replicated, repeated and expanded by using a virtual environment.

Virtual wargaming offers many advantages over traditional simulations. Consider popular online games such as World of Warcraft or Call of Duty. These games are played by millions of networked participants around the world every day. Fundamentally, they are designed to pose tactical problems to players who have a set of options from which to select. This interaction presents an incredible opportunity both to learn and collect useful data on military decision making.

In the future, for example, tactical problem X could be posed to a large and diverse group of naval officers in a virtual game format. From their answers, it would be possible to determine that a certain percentage would chose option Y, while others would chose option Z. This data could then influence policy changes or improve training and education programs, using any observed shortfalls. Further, if this virtual environment is shared with other services and coalition partners, it will be possible to determine the effect service and national culture has on tactical decision making.

Another advantage of virtual gaming is its ability to draw upon the expertise of the crowd to solve challenging problems. This is contrary to the norm of giving only a few elite players the opportunity to participate in large-scale events. Virtual environments are also more accommodating to various personality types and better for overcoming the power dynamics and hierarchies associated with the traditional approach to military wargaming.

Not surprisingly,  his unbridled enthusiasm for technological solutions provoked some eye-rolling among advocates of (cheaper, more transparent, more easily modified) manual wargames. However, I think it is important not to see this in either/or terms: provided you don’t break the bank acquiring shiny but unhelpful technological capabilities, there’s no reason why you can’t push the envelope of computer modelling, distributed network play, and user interface AND, at the same time, represent that manual methods have a variety of comparative advantages too.

PAXsims

Crisis Theory is a free/donate-to-download game that explores the crisis of capitalist accumulation for the standpoint of Marxist theory. You’ll find it here.

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A recent guest post by Kyle Hanes at the Active Learning in Political Science blog explores using a simulation to examine the bargaining model of war.

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At his Tiny Tin Men blog, Phil Dutré offers some thoughts on the recent edited volume Zones of Control: Perspectives on Wargaming. He highlights what he sees as the differences between the hobby and professional wargaming:

…the book blew me off my socks. In some of the chapters, people make the explicit link between hobby wargaming and professional wargaming – although the hobby wargames mentioned in this context usually are the hex-and-counter type, not the toy soldier type. I have argued before in several discussions (e.g. on TMP), that there is not much of a link between both, exactly because the design aims are different. I never understood the wargamers who claim that a (board) wargame designed for entertainment actually is a serious tool to train for war. “Really? You can learn to command an army by playing Tactics 2?” Nevertheless, in various online discussion, this point is always made. I often think this is because the confusion people have about the name “wargame”, and leave out the adjectives  “hobby”, “training”, “miniature, “board” or “professional”. After all, when discussing football, isn’t it important one specifies whether one is talking about European or American football, or mini-football, foosball, or a football computer game? Sure, it’s all football, but why discuss it as if it’s all the same thing?

So, if there is indeed a strong connection between professional and hobby wargaming, and if we have professional wargame designers who clearly know their stuff, then what the hell on earth are hobby miniature wargame designers thinking they’re doing? Shouldn’t we leave the game design to the professionals? Or should we as gaming enthusiasts all start reading the academic articles and use whatever insights the professionals have developed? Are those insights even transferable to hobby games to begin with?

I lay awake for some nights pondering this very question. I do like writing my own rules for miniature wargaming, testing the game out with my friends, or sending in articles about our games to the glossy miniature wargaming journals. I like playing with my toy soldiers. On the other hand, as an academic, I know there’s this world of difference between tackling a problem academically or fixing it at the hobby level. So how is a hobby like miniature wargaming perceived by serious wargame designers? Simple child’s play? Noise in the wargaming universe? Should we – as miniature wargamers – simply stop pretending we are doing anything more than just playing a simple game? (In fact, I do think we are just playing a game inspired by military history – but there’s this neverending discussion that it’s always something more, and people get confused …)

After a couple of days, I started thinking about the unique assets of miniature wargaming, that I couldn’t see being present in professional wargaming, and I became somewhat more relaxed:

  • The visual spectacle! For me, *miniature* wargaming has always been about the toy soldiers. Moving toys around the table is a large part of the attractiveness of the hobby, as is the modeling aspect that is linked to this.
  • Elegant gaming mechanics! Miniature wargaming is a game, and games design is focused around designing elegant and playable mechanics using dice, rulers, cards, … as well as around producing plausible results.
  • History, not training for actual war! Miniature wargaming most often is involved with historic subjects, not something wargames designed for training the military are really considering.
  • Fantasy and Scifi and Imaginations! Many popular miniature wargames explore alternate universes, and care little about training or historic plausibility.
  • Storytelling! In the end, a good wargame is telling a story inspired by military history. One could even make a point this is the most important point of our hobby.

So, I slowly reverted back to my original stance. Yes, there are many genres of wargaming – all called wargaming :-) But in the end, I do not see much similarities between wargaming as used by professionals and recreational wargaming as played by hobbyists. Sure, there might be the occasional game or gaming engine that can serve both audiences, but I think those are the exception rather than the rule.

It’s an interesting discussion, and one that comes up at times in professional wargaming threads at BoardGameGeek.

Regarding Phil’s final points, I wouldn’t underestimate the value of elegant rules in many professional games. Familiarity with hobby gaming also provides a mental library of game mechanics that can be adopted to more serious purposes. Moreover,  I certainly think, as Ed McGrady and Peter Perla have convincingly argued, that narrative engagement—that is to say, effective storytelling—is an essential part of why wargaming works.

At the same time, there are differences. Slavish attachment to the conventions of one type of wargaming can blind one to what may be the requirements of another: analytical games should be about analysis, educational games should be about learning, and successful hobby games are largely about fun (although many hobbyists would prize a degree of historical realism as part of the factors that enjoyment of a game). The point is to design for purpose, and consider various gaming techniques as tools in a toolkit rather than invariable recipes.

PAXsims

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Don’t forget that the first expansion set for AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game is now available from The Game Crafter. We’ve also lowered the price of the main AFTERSHOCK game too!

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Simulations miscellany, National vanilla ice cream day edition

wordle230716In the United States at least, July 23 is allegedly National Vanilla Ice Cream Day. In commemoration of the important sacrifices made by vanilla beans everywhere, PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulations and serious (and not-so-serious) games that may be of interest to our readers. Jerry Elsmore contributed to this latest edition.

PAXsims

Gender Expansion graphic.jpgThe first AFTERSHOCK expansion set will be available soon!

For some time Tom Fisher and I have been working on an expansion set for AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game that will allow players to delve more deeply into the role and impact of gender in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Now everything is done, the graphics files have been uploaded, and we’re just waiting for the final printings samples back from The Game Crafter before we make it available.

We hope that this will be the first of several AFTERSHOCK expansions sets. These will been designed so that they can be mixed so as to customize play for particular instructional needs and themes. Our next expansion is likely to focus on humanitarian operations in fragile and conflict-affected societies.

A list of forthcoming AFTERSHOCK demonstration games can be found here.

PAXsims

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On a similar topic, a new video game developed for the US Army helps to prepare military personnel for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations. According to National Defense:

A new Army video game is taking soldiers into the heart of foreign disaster zones and delivering real-world training from their laptop or tablet.

A joint task force — including U.S. Army South, the Army Research Laboratory, the office of foreign disaster assistance and the Army games for training program — has put Disaster Sim into the hands of soldiers after two years of research and development.

Disaster Sim was created by the Army Research Laboratory and programmers from the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California as a cost-effective training tool for company grade officers and mid to junior non-commissioned officers engaged in foreign disaster relief, said Maj. Timothy Migliore, chief of the Army’s games for training program.

“The more ways you can involve actually doing the task or the job at hand, the faster you learn,” he said.

Hour-long vignettes based on real-world events familiarize users with operational environments they could encounter on the ground, and teach them how to work with the office of foreign disaster assistance, non-governmental agencies and the host country. The initial scenario challenges a soldier to respond to needs in Guatemala after an earthquake….

The US Army offers additional details:

Disaster Sim’s initial scenario challenges a Soldier to respond to the needs of Guatemalans during an earthquake, said Lt. Col. Greg Pavlichko. Until taking a new assignment, he was the chief of the Games for Training program, which is part of the National Simulation Center and CAC-T.

“In the game, the Soldier has many more requests for help than resources,” said Pavlichko. “That forces the Soldier to prioritize resources to meet the most critical needs. If the Soldier doesn’t correctly address the most serious problems, there are adverse second-and-third order effects.”

The hour-long scenario also teaches Soldiers the proper procedures to work with OFDA, non-governmental agencies and the host nation. Eventually, Disaster Sim will offer leaders the opportunity to create new foreign disaster scenarios.

PAXsims

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The CIMSEC blog features an interview with Philip Sabin (King’s College London) on wargaming—including its application, his teaching, design, how he got started, and his favourite games. You’ll find it here.

PAXsims

MORS

The Military Operations Research Society will be holding its Wargaming II special meeting on 18-20 October 2016 at the Institute for Defense Analysis in Alexandria, VA.

Logo.pngThis workshop will provide a forum for presentations, demonstrations and discussions on wargaming within the National Security Community. The workshop will address two important issues:

1. How wargaming fits into the larger analytic process.
2. How to generate wargaming capacity and improve quality.

MORS will provide an environment to promote discussions among friends and allies on the former topic and educational environments to address the latter topic in facilities capable of hosting up to SECRET/NOFORN level. Most of the discussions will be held at the UNCLASSIFIED level, and as many of the classified discussions as possible will be held at the FVEY level to enable allied participation. It is expected the UK will send representatives.

MORS will also be offering a short certificate course in wargaming:

MORS will be offering a Wargaming Certificate Program (MCP) starting this October. The first course will be offered 17 October 2016 titled Wargame Theory. The goal of this course is for participants to understand the theoretical basis for the method of wargaming. This 7 course certificate program is designed to provide next level professional development not covered by academia or commercial sources

PAXsims

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The 2017 American Political Science Association Teaching and Learning Conference will be held on 10-12 February 2017 in Long Beach, California. The call for papers is now open, and extends until September 15.

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PAXsims reader (and hobby gamer) Jerry Elsmore recently playtested CRISIS, a “dieselpunk and worker placement for serious gamers.” He liked what he saw, and passed on this mini-reveiew:

Stripping out the hyperbole from the Kickstarter strap-line leaves “an economic game set in a nation on the brink of ruin.” CRISIS is a worker placement, resource management game with a degree of engine building and a significant semi cooperative twist.
It was demoed at ManorCon by Paul Grogan of Gaming Rules!

I’m the world’s worst completer finisher so being given a blank page and asked to write a review is my worst nightmare. Luckily there are plenty of reviews available: just start at their Kickstarter page. Suffice it to say I didn’t need any persuasion to play a second game and I’ve put my money where my mouth is and pledged myself an early Christmas present.

PAXsims

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The latest edition of Battles magazine came out recently, and—in addition to its usual hobby game contents—also includes much of interest on the serious application of wargames. This includes articles by Karl Mueller (on RAND’s Baltic wargames), Sebastien de Peyret (on wargaming in the French army), and Philip Sabin.

PAXsims

We can’t possible end this edition of simulations miscellany without at least some mention of Pokéman Go—the innovative and hugely successful augmented reality game that has everyone trying to enslave sentient beings so that they can be forced to fight each other so as to satisfy their owners’ lust for glory find cute loveable creatures. Specifically, we bring you this piece by BBC News on the dangers in playing the game in a minefield:

Bosnians playing the hit mobile game Pokemon Go are being warned to avoid straying into areas still sown with landmines from the war in the 1990s.

A Bosnian demining charity, Posavina bez mina, issued its warning after hearing reports of Pokemon Go users venturing into risky areas.

Players use their smartphones to hunt for cartoon monsters in the real world.

At least 600 people have been killed in landmine accidents in Bosnia since the end of the war in 1995….

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