PAXsims is pleased to share some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers. Steven Sowards suggested material for this latest edition.
The US Naval Institute has recently published three articles on the agile wargames that can support force design:
By Major Demetrio Riggio, Italian Army, and Lieutenant Colonels Mark Saville and Caleb Reed, U.S. Marine Corps
The first episode of the new Warfighter podcast features Col Arnel David (US Army).
Arnel speaks about what it means to be a Warfighter, and the importance of exercising the decision making process for leaders and how this can be enabled through wargaming techniques.
Through the Fight Club initiative that Arnel is heavily involved in, he aims to increase understanding of Wargaming amongst commanders and how these techniques can be integrated within existing training structures and pipelines.
Our hosts also welcome Andy Fawkes for the first time, who provides a digest of the recent modelling & simulation news, with some discussion around the more interesting trends.
Depuis quelques années, le Wargame bénéficie d’une nouvelle dynamique au sein des armées occidentales. Les jeux de guerre constituent un outil pédagogique qui permet d’embrasser les enjeux dans toute leur complexité et se les approprier de manière active. Ils offrent ainsi une alternative complémentaire peu coûteuse, flexible et évolutive aux méthodes de planification actuellement utilisées. En réduisant son aversion au risque et en se confrontant aux conséquences de ses propres décisions dans un temps contraint, le joueur développe son agilité intellectuelle, qualité indispensable au futur haut responsable militaire. La mise en place d’une organisation cohérente en France est une condition préalable indispensable au développement et à l’optimisation de cet outil.
One critical moment this summer came during a war game with U.S. and Ukrainian officials aimed at testing the success of a broad offensive across the south. The exercise, reported earlier by CNN, suggested such an offensive would fail. Armed with the American skepticism, Ukrainian military officials went back to Mr. Zelensky.
“We did do some modeling and some tabletop exercises,” Colin Kahl, the Pentagon’s policy chief, said in a telephone interview. “That set of exercises suggested that certain avenues for a counteroffensive were likely to be more successful than others. We provided that advice, and then the Ukrainians internalized that and made their own decision.”
Together Britain, the United States and Ukraine conducted an assessment of the new plan, trying to war game it once more. This time officials from the three countries agreed it would work — and give Mr. Zelensky what he wanted: a big, clear victory.
The role played by wargaming in the Ukraine war won’t be known for decades, of course. Some caution is in order. In general, commentators are quick to claim partial credit for successes, but rarely do so with failures. The wargaming community also has a terrible habit of mythologizing wargames as either hugely insightful or deeply flawed—Pearl Harbour, Midway, WATU, and Millennium Challenge 2002, for example—when a detailed look at the historical record shows a much more complex and nuanced picture. So far there is little evidence that wargaming has played any significant role in Ukraine’s very agile operational planning, although that may simply be because it hasn’t been reported yet given the operational secrecy requirements of conducting a war.
Indeed, as Cole Petersen recently pointed out in a lengthy thread on Twitter, there’s little evidence of the MDMP or other Western staff and planning procedures either.
Sayanti Sengupta, a technical advisor for the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, was one of the first people to try the beta version of Daybreak, a highly anticipated board game from creators Matt Leacock and Matteo Menapace. Playing at home, she marveled as her friends slapped down cards to deploy solar farms, struck multilateral climate deals across the table, and swapped out tiles to phase out fossil fuel energy. Together, they counted up little gray cubes representing carbon in the atmosphere, a binding moment every round where they paused to celebrate and reassess.
“Every time we could do a round without losing communities or without raising the temperature, people were more into it. Like next time, they want to do it better,” Sengupta says. “This is exactly what you need to feel for the climate problem. You need to keep at it.”
After three years in development, Daybreak will hit the commercial market next spring, joining a plethora of climate change-inspired games. Leacock, best known for his cooperative board game Pandemic, is adding his own spin to Daybreak: The game is based on real-world data and policies, with a degree of game abstraction. Like Pandemic, it’s tricky to win, and players must work together to achieve collective solutions. In the runup to COP27, the creators say that Daybreak offers a miniature model through which to understand current events.
This simulation, which was announced on Wednesday, is set to take place in October 2023, and it would plunge two parts of one arrondissement (which has not yet been decided) into the fictitious scenario to test the city’s capacity to respond to such a crisis.
The current temperature record in Paris is 42.6C, which was set during the heatwave of 2019, but experts predict that the record is unlikely to remain unbroken for much longer.
According to Deputy Mayor of Paris, Penelope Komitès, the city wants to be able to anticipate the next disaster.
Public authorities hope to expand upon and move beyond the city’s first “action plan,” which was adopted in 2017.
The heatwave simulation would allow the city to test its emergency response capacity, namely deployment of cool rooms, shaded areas and other measures. It would also allow public officials to gauge and predict the reactions of Parisians amid a disastrous heatwave of 50C.
“We have survived crises, but they can happen again,” Komitès said to Le Parisien. Her goal is not for the simulation to provoke anxiety, but instead to prepare the city to mobilise in such an event.
More on severe weather preparedness simulation—in this case, a recent report from the Associated Press on how “a 2009 planning exercise dubbed Project Phoenix eerily anticipated the potential damage the Tampa Bay area is facing from Hurricane Ian.”
In ominous tones, a documentary narrator describes the devastation wrought on the Tampa Bay, Fla. area by “Phoenix,” a tropical storm that grew into a Category 5 hurricane.
More than 160 deaths with 30,000 missing people. Upwards of 300,000 people seeking shelter. As much as $200 billion in building damage.
“The devastation to the region is almost unimaginable,” the narrator intones.
Phoenix was imaginary, part of a 2009 government preparation exercise for a killer hurricane dubbed Project Phoenix — an exercise updated in 2020 focusing on small business recovery.
Though the storm and a 10-minute documentary were fictional, the warnings have taken on special significance this week as the nightmare envisioned by Project Phoenix approaches in the form of the very real Hurricane Ian.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Florida Department of Emergency Management sponsored the 2009 simulation to identify gaps in local emergency planning and figure out responses across jurisdictions, Randy Deshazo, Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council chief of staff, said Tuesday in an email.
The tabletop exercise imagined a direct strike from a Category 5 hurricane. With help from WFLA-TV, the project created a video combining simulated weather reports and archived video footage from other storms.
Emergency managers across Florida have used Project Phoenix in training exercises, Deshazo said.
By identifying areas of hurricane prep weakness and building cooperation across jurisdictions, Phoenix was useful in “strengthening regional ‘muscle memory’ for emergency response that I think will prove itself in the wake of Ian,” Deshazo said.
The 2020 update, Project Phoenix 2.0, examined the issues facing Tampa Bay area small businesses and emergency management agencies during disaster recovery. The update drew on lessons experienced by Mexico Beach, Florida, business owners devastated by 2018’s Hurricane Michael.
The video of Sebastian Bae’s August 2022 presentation on wargaming (“Learn to Play, Play to Learn”) at Maxwell Air Force Base can be found on DVIDS.
In the game ‘General Draza’ (‘Djeneral Draza’), players can choose to be the chief of the Communist Partisans or to command their rivals, the Chetniks, leading their forces through WWII in Yugoslavia with the aim of defeating the other side and eventually winning control over the country.
As well as the Mihailovic game, BIRN has identified at least five other board games themed around the wars in Yugoslavia in the 20th Century, as well as dozens of first-person shooter video games mostly set in the 1990s wars.
These shooter games are mostly customised versions – known as mods – of well-known video games. Some are made from a Serb, Bosniak or Albanian perspective, although they are not necessarily produced by Serbs, Bosniaks or Albanians.
Many of the shooter games offer a distorted view of history and are blind to the war crimes committed during the operations upon which they are based.
The article also addresses historical boardgames set in WWI and WWII.
As usual, there are plenty of fascinating talks scheduled by the Georgetown University Wargaming Society. Check out their website for these and more!
PAXsims is pleased to present some recent(-ish) items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers. See something we should include in our next update? Email us!
In the buildup to the current Ukrainian counteroffensive, the US urged Kyiv to keep the operation limited in both its objectives and its geography to avoid getting overextended and bogged down on multiple fronts, multiple US and western officials and Ukrainian sources tell CNN.
Those discussions involved engaging in “war-gaming” with Kyiv, the sources said – analytical exercises that were intended to help the Ukrainian forces understand what force levels they would need to muster to be successful in different scenarios.
The Ukrainians were initially considering a broader counteroffensive, but narrowed their mission to the south, in the Kherson region, in recent weeks, US and Ukrainian officials said.
Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told CNN that “the United States has routine military-to-military dialogue at multiple levels with Ukraine. We will not comment on the specifics of those engagements. Generally speaking, we provide the Ukrainians with information to help them better understand the threats they face and defend their country against Russian aggression. Ultimately, the Ukrainians are making the final decisions for their operations.”
If you missed the original live presentation, the King’s Wargaming Network has posted a June 2022 lecture by Natalia Wojtowicz on “Evaluating Effectiveness in Wargames” to their YouTube channel.
Natalia Wojtowicz will showcase different methods of evaluating effectiveness of wargames, compiled from academic, industrial and governmental sector. A comparison of common and distinct factors will be analyzed to connect the effects with structure of the wargame. The question of objectivity of results will be explored based on recent experiments on adjudication. This presentation will be focused on identifying next steps in measuring and evaluating wargames.
Natalia Wojtowicz is a lecturer at the Hague University of Applied Sciences in the Safety and Security Management Programme. She teaches about wargaming, game design, and digital skills. Her research includes effectiveness of wargaming, new methods and experimental implementation. Previously she worked at the NATO Civil-Military Cooperation Center of Excellence, leading the Wargaming, Modelling and Simulation project focused on introducing civilian population into training and education. Later she designed 14 new wargames implemented across NATO. Currently she is researching adjudication in wargaming and testing an upcoming game about uprising in Belarus. You can follow her at @Wojtowicz_N
The dynamic disaster response environment in which his research took place, and the challenges it both poses and faces, resembles that of wargames. Overall, this research shows that to gain maximum benefit from disaster response evaluations, the outcomes must be systematic, rigorous, evidence-based and actionable. This is also challenging as this creates a dilemma around the so called ‘rigor-relevance gap’ which refers to the hurdle of simultaneously delivering practitioner relevance and scholarly rigour. There will be a mixture of scholarly rigour and practitioner relevance by introducing and discussing various approaches, concepts, processes and models such as the research design strategy, design science and evaluation descriptions. This is combined with insights into the Dutch Crisis Management system and practical experiences (with evaluation) as well as key research findings that can be transferred to wargames. This lecture will propose some ways forward and open a conversation regarding how to manage both the process and the products of an evaluation and possible scientific and practical contributions, in order to optimise its usefulness for a range of purposes and users. In general the session is aimed at enhancing our understanding of the role(s) of evaluation in dynamic and complex environments such as disaster risk management and the transfer of these insights to wargames, keeping in mind that it is not the evaluation itself that leads to improvement; it is the use of the evaluation that can lead to improvement. Evaluation should be seen as a means to an end.
Dr. Ralf Beerens is a senior researcher at the Netherlands Institute for Public Safety (NIPV) and is also a senior lecturer for the Institute’s Master in Crisis and Public Order Management (MCPM). In September 2021 he received his Ph.D. from Lund University, Division of Risk Management and Societal Safety, where he remains affiliated as a visiting research fellow. In this research he focused on disaster response (exercise) evaluation. He remains particularly interested in the evaluation of the operational performance of (international) emergency response organisations, teams or modules during exercises and crises, which also reflects his professional experience as an evaluator.
And another lecture, by Kate Kuehn on Valid and Meaningful Assessment of Wargames (April 2022) is also now available on YouTube.
Wargames offer a promising avenue for analyzing the quality of plans or decisions as well as for developing and assessing player or team capabilities. Within a military education context, wargames can reproduce authentic, complex environments that facilitate application and integration of critical 21st century learning skills like creativity, collaboration, and problem-solving. At the same time, these dynamic environments pose a challenge for traditional measurement approaches, evidenced by numerous critiques of simulation-based learning, games-based learning, and wargaming assessment practices. Purposeful integration of assessment into wargaming design is essential to demonstrating the value of wargaming for individuals and institutions. This lecture will highlight key principles of sound and meaningful assessment within wargaming contexts, synthesizing literature from measurement and gaming disciplines. The discussion will also integrate lessons from a case study that examined assessment challenges and practices of a U.S. military education program that is rapidly expanding these activities in its curriculum. The findings highlighted key mechanisms and opportunities to “bake assessment in” to wargame design and facilitation. The presentation seeks to offer a guide for practitioners who are seeking to implement valid and meaningful assessment of learning that can be adapted to their own wargaming practices.
Kate Kuehn is the Director of Institutional Research, Assessment, and Planning at Marine Corps University (MCU). In addition to managing the University’s institutional effectiveness process, she supports the evaluation of all MCU professional military education programs and directorates. Kate has spent 12 years working on evaluation and assessment of military education programs, providing advice on the design of learning assessments at the classroom, program, and institutional level. She is a member of the Military Education Assessment Advisory Group and has frequently served on military accreditation teams. Her research focuses on assessment and performance evaluation in complex contexts. More specifically, she is currently focused on assessment in team-based simulated learning environments. Kate has an MA from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and a BA from the College of William and Mary. She is a doctoral candidate at George Mason University’s College of Education and Human Development with specializations in education research methodology and educational psychology. Her dissertation proposes an assessment framework for collaborative, ill-structured games, and examines its application to educational wargaming practice.
Representing six Participating States, NATO, various national ministries, think tanks and armed forces, thecourse brought together a unique group of students in Helsinki. Aimed at a diverse group of participants, thispractical and educational two-week workshop was designed to encourage a whole-of-society approach to cooperation in countering hybrid threats. In this iteration of the wargaming course, students tackled the challenge of building an exploratory wargame which considered the influence of various actors on European energy security.
The students went through the process of creating a wargame from start to finish, with the help of lectures, practical exercises and learning by doing. Through the creation of unique hybrid threat wargames, the courses not only increased awareness of hybrid threats but also overall understanding with regard to nations’ ability to respond to them.
This article explores the reception of the American-made board game Fulda Gap: The First Battle of the Next War in the Federal Republic of Germany in the early 1980s. The German peace movement used the game, which depicted conventional, chemical, and nuclear war on German territory, as a potent symbol of what they believed to be American and NATO disregard for German lives and sovereignty. The controversy over the game reflected the changing character of German-American relations during the ‘Second Cold War’ and increasing concerns among Germans about the possible consequences of superpower conflict in Central Europe.
In turn, RockyMountainNavy reviews the game, its treatment of nuclear war, and historical and cultural context at Armchair Dragoons: “Wargame History – An anti-nuclear wargame in Fulda Gap.” He tends to the view that it was perhaps a little less significant that Seipp argues.
This week, we’re talking to Anthony Sharman, director of Evocatus Consulting, a company set up to help military organisations and businesses to communicate through games and exercises. As is the case with many of our interview subjects, whereas Anthony’s work once relied heavily on rudimentary tabletop games, today, Evocatus utilises bleeding edge technology to produce realistic simulations that will soon be almost indistinguishable from the real thing.
So, what makes Anthony and his team tick, why are simulations such a powerful training tool and is there any definite science behind these highly technical war games?
PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers. Many thanks to Aaron Danis and Steven Sowards for suggesting items for this latest edition.
In 2020, I wrote an article for The Cove – Reinvigorating Wargaming – which highlighted how commercially available wargames had been employed in the United States and United Kingdom to support their reinvigoration of wargaming. Both countries recognised that wargaming had the potential to enhance the critical thinking and decision-making skills of their personnel; it enables their personnel to think, fight and win in war. The recent release of the Commander Forces Command Directive, Army Wargaming: 2021 – 2025 acknowledges that wargaming has the potential to enhance our cognitive capacity by providing opportunities to exercise decision-making in safe-to-fail adversarial environments. Critically though, the directive noted that while wargaming has been revitalised in the United States and United Kingdom within the Australian Army more investment is required. The Director General Training and Doctrine has just released the Australian Army’s first Professional Gaming List; it represents the first of the Army Wargaming: 2021 – 2025 initiatives.
This article aims to explore the value of the Professional Gaming List and outline how these games can be incorporated into a unit Professional Military Education program. For a variety of reasons, the idea of playing games as part of a unit training program will seem foreign and perhaps even wrong to many. To understand the potential value of this approach it is necessary to define wargaming and in particular dispel the notion that Course of Action – Analysis is wargaming. Incorporating one of these games into a unit training activity is a deliberate decision that requires some preparation; this article will conclude with a suggested format for these training activities.
The CNAS Sharper series features curated analysis and commentary from CNAS experts on the most critical challenges in U.S. foreign policy. The most recent issue contains links to several recent pieces on wargaming:
From armed conflicts to global pandemics, military strategists and policymakers use gaming to gain insights into some of the most challenging problems they face. Ranging from operational wargames to strategy games, these exercises help develop and test strategies, support effective decision-making, and communicate vital lessons to key stakeholders. The Gaming Lab at CNAS develops, runs, and analyzes games to derive critical insights on a wide array of military, political, and economic challenges, with the aim to make concrete policy-relevant recommendations.
The 2021 theme is “OR&A: New ideas, old realities”. The theme reflects the long- standing practice of Operations Research and Analysis in Defence, tackling ongoing challenges faced by the Alliance and looks to the future to bring new methods to old challenges, or well-established methods on future challenges. The conference will kick off with a keynote address and cover the following topics:
Recently, it has become commonplace to hear arguments that the United States military ought to place a greater emphasis on incorporating wargaming into its professional military education programs, so as to better prepare future military leaders for the challenges of the twenty first century. Of course, critics have acutely identified issues with the preexisting practice of wargames and their value as planning tools; notably, that participants often fail to connect the military action with political considerations or objectives and that wargames are seldom able to simulate the realities of combat situations. The fact remains; however, that wargaming already has a long history of use by the armed services and continues to be a significant aspect of crafting operation plans and strategic futures. What is most interesting about the wargaming discourse, however, is the comparatively minor presence of arguments for incorporating wargaming into the education of civilian foreign policy and national security practitioners. This is especially confounding when one considers that it is civilians who occupy the chief roles in defining the political ends, directing the strategic ways, and approving the military means of national security policies.
The education of upcoming foreign policy practitioners and national security strategists is a subject of great interest, importance, and debate. Overwhelmingly, it occurs in the political science and international relations faculties of civilian universities. For students, what an undergraduate foreign or national security policy education looks like is largely an amalgamation of abstract theories, primarily those of the international relations field; historical case studies, mostly cherrypicked from the last two centuries of European history; the strategic canon of Clausewitz and Machiavelli, among others; perhaps a foreign language; and, for some, statistical trend analysis. This is a rather problematic way of educating some of the most important practitioners within their fields, producing graduates of disparate quality in strategic thinking capacity; an issue which has been brought up repeatedly throughout the years across a variety of disciplines in what might be considered a wider debate over the atrophy of degree programs in practicality and critical thinking development. The question of what an undergraduate education, in this case international relations and affiliated programs, truly equips students to do is one of growing significance yet remains somewhat elusive. While the application of strategic concepts and international relations theory in an academic setting likely helps to develop one’s general analytical skills, its ability to truly instill an understanding of the practice of statecraft, much less the utility of military operations and the practice of war more broadly, is rather questionable.
Enter the tabletop. That tabletop games can be effectively used to enhance learning in a variety of disciplines is a well-understood and empirically founded concept.
Last week, David Ochmanek, a senior international affairs and defense researcher at the RAND Corporation and a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Development during President Barack Obama’s administration, discussed the importance of unmanned platforms in Taiwan Strait crisis-related wargaming that the think tank has done in recent years. Ochmanek offered his insight during an online chat, which you can watch in full below, hosted by the Air & Space Forces Association’s Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.
The clear lesson from the war game is that the United States needs to strengthen its conventional capabilities in the Indo-Pacific to ensure that China never views an invasion of Taiwan as a prudent tactical move. To do so, the United States will need to commit to maintaining its conventional military superiority by expanding its stockpiles of long-range munitions and investing in undersea capabilities. Washington must also be able to conduct offensive operations inside the first and second island chains even while under attack. This will require access to new bases to distribute U.S. forces, enhance their survivability, and ensure that they can effectively defend Taiwan in the face of China’s attacks.
Moreover, the United States needs to develop an integrated network of partners willing to contribute to Taiwan’s defense. Allies are an asymmetric advantage: the United States has them, and China does not. The United States should deepen strategic and operational planning with key partners to send a strong signal of resolve to China. As part of these planning efforts, the United States and its allies will need to develop war-winning military strategies that do not cross Chinese red-lines. The game highlighted just how difficult this task may be; what it did not highlight is the complexity of developing military strategies that integrate the strategic objectives and military capacities of multiple nations.
Moving forward, military planners in the United States and in Washington’s allies and partners must grapple with the fact that, in a conflict over Taiwan, China would consider all conventional and nuclear options to be on the table. And the United States is running out of time to strengthen deterrence and keep China from believing an invasion of Taiwan could be successful. The biggest risk is that Washington and its friends choose not to seize the moment and act: a year or two from now, it might already be too late.
The Serious Play 2022 conference will feature a series of post-conference skills workshops, including one on wargame design.
In this workshop, the depth and breadth of wargames for military contexts will be discussed. Military trainers and member of Defense Acquisition University faculty will join forces to help attendees understand the development of these types of games for a wide range of applications.
Bring your idea (or use one of ours) and spend the day working with a team of experts in wargaming and game design to create a wargame that will allow for you to address your training or game concept.
By the end of this workshop you should be able to create a prototype baseline of your idea and have the tools to develop it further.
A special feature of this workshop will be the discussion and demo of a tabletop wargame about a competition between the U.S. and China over artificial intelligence created by graduate students in Security Studies at Georgetown University.
Adjunct professor Kerry M. Kartchner and 16 BYU students gathered at the Kennedy Center on May 18 and were separated into four groups representing Ukraine, Russia, NATO and the United States. Kartchner asked the students to discuss two nuclear crises scenarios, which were fictitious and for educational purposes only.
After receiving each scenario, the groups went into different classrooms and discussed the aftermath of the respective crises. Appointed diplomats from each group communicated with other groups to determine needs, demands and possible outcomes. After the private discourse, they came back together to negotiate.
“This is the first time we’ve done a simulation in this class,” Kartchner said. “It was a success; they asked all the right questions.”
Kartchner, who teaches several political science classes each semester depending on the needs of the department, said his favorite part of the simulations was seeing students discover the real world applications to principles they discussed in class.
Kartchner also said simulations are an important part of political science classes because they allow students to think through issues from the point of view of the organizations they represent.
“It can be frustrating, but it’s very realistic,” Kartchner said. “Often the information is incomplete or inaccurate, and there’s no good answer.”
Chris Engle—inventor of the matrix game—recently developed a short handout on how he runs such games for Origins Game Convention War College. He was kind enough to share it with PAXsims.
The game, Thor’s Hammer, (not related to the commercial e-game of the same name), set in Norway and Sweden, was designed by game-design students at Georgetown University in cooperation with the Department of Sustainment and Force Management at CGSC. CGSC’s Department of Simulation Education assisted in the design and development of the game.
“The game teaches that sustainment is more than a logistics function,” said Lt. Col. John Lord, DSE director.
Wargames are an effective teaching tool because they engage students, play into the student’s competitive nature, and make learning fun, explained Todd Guggisberg, team leader for CGSC Team 17 and lead instructor for the elective.
Lt. Col. Chris Baldwin, the assistant instructor added, “This allows them to execute the imperatives of building combat power, sustaining operational reach and enabling endurance.”
Doing it as a board game rather than a computer-driven scenario allows the instructor to have more freedom in how to incorporate the game into classes, Lord said.
While most wargames focus on maneuver and kinetic engagement, the Sustainment Department was looking for a game that downplayed the battle and focused on the importance of sustainment in the success of combat operations. They contacted Georgetown, and the design of the game became a class project for students in the university’s design class.
Jamie Hood, one of the game designers from Georgetown, said basic design of the game took about eight months and was completed in December. Since then the design team has tested and tweaked the game preparing for the CGSC elective that serves as a learning experience for the CGSC students and a culminating test for the game.
In order to simplify the game, make it quick to learn, and allow it to be played within the class framework, the designers decided not to play the air and sea elements and to limit the classes of supply to fuel, food, and ammunition. They also designed the game to be played by one or two people on each side to allow the most engagement for students.
It has been a while since we posted one of these, but 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. Aaron Danis, Oliver Resnick, and Philip Sabin suggested items for this latest edition.
There are relatively few individuals within the United States government who understand how, for example, Napoleon used the strategy of the central position in the Hundred Days campaign. Nevertheless, there is almost no one who would not understand, “It’s fourth and ten—we have to punt.”
The games we play represent our first, and arguably our most important, strategic language. Sports games such as American football, soccer, or basketball, tabletop games such as chess or go, and even video games such as Starcraft or League of Legendsprovide a common, implicitly learned language of strategy. This language channels strategic thinking while facilitating communication. These games not only influence the strategic planning of countries but also of important world leaders. Just as it is possible, for example, to see elements of American football in US strategic thinking, it is also possible to see the fundamental premises of judo, Vladimir Putin’s sport, in Russia’s efforts to use its opponents’ strengths against them.
It is, of course, possible to overextend this insight. Games are certainly not the only influence on a culture’s, a country’s, or a person’s strategic thinking. History, education, economics, politics, as well as the broader context of the situation play a role. That said, games, despite their obvious influence, have historically been underexamined as both an inspiration and a catalyst for strategic thought.
Sports and games played and enjoyed over a lifetime undoubtedly influence the strategic thinking of individuals. To the extent that these activities are well-known or widely played, they also arguably influence the way national security decision makers think and act when making strategic decisions. Perhaps most importantly, however, these sports and games create the language with which senior leaders can better communicate their plans and intentions to fellow citizens. While the exact nature of these connections is clearly a subject for future studies, such studies will likely shed light on the wide range of influence the implicitly learned lessons of games continue to have on the strategic thinking of leaders across the globe.
War games and crisis simulations are exercises where participants make decisions to simulate real-world behavior. In the field of international security, games are frequently used to study how actors make decisions during conflict, but they can also be used to model human behavior in countless other scenarios.
War games take place in a “structured-unstructured environment,” according to Benjamin Harris, PhD student in the Department of Political Science and a convener of the MIT Wargaming Working Group at the Center for International Studies (CIS).
This means that the games operate at two levels — an overarching structure conditions what kind of moves players can make, but interactions among team members are unstructured. As a result, people with different backgrounds are forced to engage and learn from each other throughout the simulation. “The game goes where the participants take it,” says Harris.
MIT researchers have been developing the craft of war gaming since the late 1950s. In “The Pioneering Role of CIS in American War Gaming,” Reid Pauly PhD ’19, assistant professor at Brown University and a CIS research affiliate, credits the origins of modern war-gaming methodology in large part to MIT professor Lincoln Bloomfield and other faculty affiliated with CIS.
Today, CIS is again at the center of new developments in the methodology, pedagogy, and application of war gaming. Over the last few years, CIS and the MIT Security Studies Program have responded to an increased demand for war gaming among students and from the policy community. This has resulted in new course offerings, student and faculty-produced research, and on-campus simulations.
PhD student Suzanne Freeman and Harris started the Wargaming Working Group as a forum for students to engage with the war-gaming community on campus and in policy spaces. Now in its third year, the group has developed a partnership with the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) that brings mid-career military officers and academics together for an annual simulation.
Richard Samuels, Ford International Professor of Political Science and director of CIS, participated in his first crisis simulation in a game organized by Bloomfield, and subsequently organized nearly a dozen large-scale games at MIT in the 1990s through the early 2000s, most focused on Asia-Pacific security dynamics. Eric Heginbotham PhD ’04, a principal research scientist at CIS, and Christopher Twomey PhD ’05, were active participants. Together, they established the working group’s partnership with NPS, where Twomey is associate professor.
This year, participants worked through a crisis scenario centered on a nuclear reactor meltdown in Taiwan. Teams were assigned to represent Taiwan, China, the United States, and Japan, and the game was designed to tease out how civilian and military sub-teams would communicate during a crisis. Freeman and Harris presented some of the findings from the war game at Georgetown University in October 2021.
In addition to planning tabletop exercises at MIT, the working group invites speakers from universities and think tanks to present war-gaming research, and held online war games when MIT went virtual due to Covid-19. The working group has been especially successful at bridging the gap between academia and policy, allowing for PhD students and military officers to learn from each other, says Freeman.
For students hoping to further explore the history and practice of war gaming in a classroom setting, MIT now offers “Simulating Global Dynamics and War,” co-taught biennially by Samuels and Heginbotham. Students participate in four war games over the course of the semester — an operational war game, political-military crisis game, experimental game, and a game designed by students as their final project.
While the class is designed for security studies students and military fellows, it has included students and practitioners from other fields interested in incorporating gaming into their work. Lessons from the course can be applied to issues such as a global pandemic or refugee crisis, says Heginbotham.
For MIT undergraduates taking coursework in political science, war gaming is also a pedagogical tool used to consider the implications of policy decisions. In fall 2021, students in Erik Lin-Greenberg’s National Security Policy class participated in a simulation centered around a cyberattack on U.S. soil. Students worked in teams to represent U.S. government agencies at a National Security Council Principals Committee meeting. Lin-Greenberg is assistant professor of political science at MIT.
The Patterson School of Diplomacy at the University of Kentucky held a crisis simulation in February, set in Venezuela. You’ll find details on that here.
The O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University has started running national security simulations for its undergraduate students. You can read about it here.
Here and here Bryan Alexander discusses using university simulation game in a graduate seminar.
During the first week of March, as the eyes of the world were on the valiant defenders of Ukraine, officers at the Army War College in Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania were fighting a war in Asia — admittedly, while keeping close watch on the war in Ukraine as well. Their mission: prevent the People’s Republic of China from gaining control of the South China Sea.
Well, that was the mission of half of the staff groups; the others, portraying China, were tasked to seize control of the South China Sea. Seminars composed of some fifteen officers compete against the seminar next door; the one we, the faculty teaching team, watched and mentored included a majority of active duty Army officers but also a Guardsman, a reserve JAG, two Air Force officers, a Marine, and a Department of the Army civilian, as well as allied officers from Montenegro, Nepal, and Pakistan. The opposing team portraying China had a roughly similar array of talent; most of the officers have about twenty years of service, including many with multiple combat tours in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The game, developed by Army officers Lt. Col. Derek Martin and Col. Chris Hossfeld of the Army War College, is carefully calibrated so that each side has a roughly equal chance of winning a pretend war over the critical piece of terrain known as the South China Sea, with game pieces that replicate weapons systems including advanced missiles, aircraft, ships, submarines, Marine and army ground and air defense units, and Special Operations Forces. The Navy has used this same scenario to test and develop its latest warfighting concept; while the Army War College has used war games to develop the warfighting and war-winning abilities of its students for many decades, this is the first time it has tried this particular game.
The big idea? Officers, and particularly generals, do not often get to “practice” warfare at the operational level. Senior officers are usually are thrust into warfare where the stakes are highest but their experience in actual combat at that level is at its lowest. This is a chance to exercise and improve their judgement in the application of military power to achieve national objectives in a joint and coalition setting against a thinking adversary where decisions have consequences.
To analyze gray zone escalation dynamics around Taiwan, the researchers adapted a tabletop exercise (TTX) format to conduct a conjoint experiment over the course of 20 crisis simulations during the Fall of 2021.41 In 10 treatments, U.S. players had access to long-term crisis options using military power. In 10 treatments, U.S. players only had access to more immediate military response options. The underlying scenario, summarized below, was held constant across the events and involved a standoff over the Kinmen Islands in 2027. The scenario posited that Chinese military, economic, and diplomatic pressure on Taiwan increased after the 2024 Taiwanese presidential election. By 2026, there are weekly major Chinese incursions into the island’s air defense identification zone, including fighters, nuclear-capable bombers, and antisubmarine warfare platforms. In the last three months, these activities have intensified through the operation of naval surface action groups and simulated military operations off the eastern coast of Taiwan. China has increased pressure on the Taiwanese Kinmen (10 km off the coast of mainland China) which Beijing seeks to claim jurisdiction over. Kinmen leaps into international news when in 2027 a gas pipeline explosion damages a nearby Chinese fishing vessel. Chinese media claims that the explosion resulted from an attack by Taiwanese separatists and uses it as an opportunity to expand its East China Sea air identification zone to cover the entirety of Kinmen. Simultaneously, China conducts large military exercises firing missiles into the East China Sea and simulating attack runs to the north and south of Taiwan while entering the Japanese airspace. As Japan deploys naval vessels in response, multiple countries warn the Kinmen crisis could spark a wider military confrontation with China. World stock markets drop 10 percent as funds shift to U.S. bonds and gold prices surge. Taiwan requests assistance, and the U.S. president is under increasing pressure to respond to this economic and military challenge.
It’s very well done—you will find the full report (together with a decription of the methodology) at the link above.
At The Futurist, Stephen Aguilar-Millan discusses the lessons to be learned from a recent Belt and Road Initiative policy game, Xi Turns West. You will also find a turn-by-turn account of the game at the website.
Given the complexity of the topic at hand, the CNAS Gaming Lab developed a strategy game to examine global semiconductor competition. Games provide a “safe to fail” environment, which is particularly conducive to examining poorly understood problems. Games also serve as powerful tools for establishing a shared understanding of a problem, given their collaborative and experiential format and ability to convene different communities. The Chips Are Down game enabled the CNAS team to learn more about the competition for semiconductors, while providing game participants with a shared understanding of the critical implications of the competition.
The Chips Are Down game produced critical insights into the nature of U.S.-China strategic competition and global competition for semiconductors, discussed in this report. This report first provides an overview of the game including its purpose, the scenario, and the game design. Next, it details four key insights derived from the game, examining their emergence during gameplay and their real-world implications. Lastly, it concludes with recommendations for overcoming a set of challenges stemming from these insights, aimed at improving the U.S. position in future strategic competition.
A recent episode of the #BruteCast podcast by the Krulak Center (Marine Corps University) featured a discussion by Emma Ashford, James “Pigeon” Fielder, Andrew Reddie, Damien O’Connell, and Sebastian J. Bae on rapid wargame prototyping for crises.
As part of our special focus on #Russia and #Ukraine, #TeamKrulak brought you our first panel event of 2022 with a unique group of individuals focusing on a unique topic. How does wargaming help when the problem is a rapidly unfolding crisis in a fluid environment, such as the Russian build-up near Ukraine, when an off-the-shelf option, or deliberately designed wargame, isn’t readily available? This is what our panel discussed, examining the challenges of rapidly developing a wargame framework for a dynamic crisis, the specific aspects of the crisis near Ukraine that decision-makers and policy framers would want to simulate, and different approaches for developing useful wargame options in such a scenario.
Amid this escalation, experts can spin out an infinite number of branching scenarios on how this might end. But scores of war games conducted for the U.S. and allied governments and my own experience as the U.S. national intelligence officer for Europe suggest that if we boil it down, there are really only two paths toward ending the war: one, continued escalation, potentially across the nuclear threshold; the other, a bitter peace imposed on a defeated Ukraine that will be extremely hard for the United States and many European allies to swallow.
For those who want to model the consequences of nuclear wepaons use in Europe or elsewhere, there is always NukeMap.
Garbage in, garbage out. We all know the idea but it’s possible the military has forgotten the maxim a few times in the past when designing wargames. WAR ROOM welcomes Bob Bradford and Fred Gellert to explain a few basic tenets that will ensure experiments and wargames yield valid and useful insights. It might seem simple but concepts like asking valid, measurable questions, developing testable hypotheses, and a well resourced, adaptive OPFOR are just a few points that will ensure the Army makes good choices about preparing for the future.
Interested in wargaming and intelligence analysis? Here’s a 1998 monograph by Jonathan Lockwood, and Donald J. Hanle that is now available online.
Each year, SIA Professor and former U.S. Ambassador Dennis Jett coordinates an international crisis simulation as a component of his core course on the foundations of diplomacy and international relations theory. The U.S. Army War College, located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, manages the details of the simulation in the form of its International Strategic Crisis Negotiation Exercise.
Experiential learning is one of the best ways for students to prepare for a career in international affairs. “The simulation with the Army War College is one of the most popular and important activities that students participate in while at the School of International Affairs,” Jett said.
This year’s exercise focused on the Arctic region, with the students divided into nine teams. They negotiated the conflicting claims of the countries represented over rights to the resources in the Arctic region.
“It puts students into a situation that is very close to what a real-world, diplomatic negotiation is actually like,” Jett continued. “It is a very valuable, professional experience and it is fun for them to try out their negotiation skills in a complicated, international crisis.”
Former ICONS Director and current researcher at the Applied Research Laboratory for Intelligence and Security (ARLIS) Devin Ellis noted that the core purpose of the game was to offer an opportunity for U.S. Government participants to practice crisis management at the U.S. embassy level.
“DSF recommended to the State Department that more training and gaming be done for FSOs, who don’t receive the level of consistent investment in these types of trainings that their counterparts in the Department of Defense, for example, do,” Ellis said.
The game included more than 30 participants from the Department of State, Department of Defense, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Intelligence Community.
“The unit of analysis here – the Country Team – was selected because it is an interagency group at the embassy level,” Ellis said. “Aside from serving on a country team during the course of their careers, many FSOs, when they become Deputy Chiefs of Mission or Ambassadors, would have only had experience in leading a country team to deal with a crisis if a real crisis had happened at one of their postings. So the aim here is to fill that gap.”
The game involved a crisis situation at a U.S. embassy within a fictional nation named Ikhaya, and included everything from invented White House memos to maps of Ikhaya.
“One of the best things about this simulation was that it was an interagency activity from start to finish,” ICONS Researcher and Simulation Developer Ron Capps said. “We had some pretty senior people from the defense, development, diplomacy and intelligence communities engaged in getting the details right during the development, and we had the same groups represented on the control team and as participants in the simulation itself.”
A recent episode of Homo Ludens featured Fred Serval discussing wargaming ethics (specifically, civilian victimization in wargames) with Brian Train, Javier Romero, John Poniske, and Tomislav Cipčic.
Was the Zenobia Award a perfect process? As a chief judge, I would say far from it. And we have learned a lot from this process that we can improve in the future.
But did it meaningfully push the ball forward? Judging from the publishing and social media success we have seen from a number of contestants already, this appears to be the case.
The intent of the Zenobia Award was to show that a diverse set of game designers could not only deliver meaningful and fun game designs but that those games might showcase the diversity of the designers.
And from the game designs that have come out of Zenobia, I think it’s been a great success.
Over the last few years, tensions in the Taiwan Strait have led to great concerns over Chinese territorial claims in the region. The potential for an escalation is
high – with significant implications for Europe. At the same time, the Biden administration is pursuing a tough stance on China and expects Europe to join a transatlantic approach.
Against this backdrop, the Körber Policy Game brought together a high-level group of senior experts, politicians, and officials from France, Germany, Italy and the UK to address a fictional scenario of a political- security crisis in the Taiwan Strait.
How will Europe position itself in an escalation be- tween China and the US against the backdrop of trade tensions and a threat of Chinese intervention in Taiwan? Which interests are at stake for Europeans, and which policy options do they have at their disposal? Can Europe find a coherent strategy in a crisis, considering China’s relevance for economic and trade relations?
The Körber Policy Game projects current foreign and security policy trends into a future scenario. The aim is to develop a deeper understanding of the inter- ests and priorities of different actors as well as possible policy options. Previous Körber Policy Games have dis- cussed Europe’s post-COVID-19 future, a US withdrawal from NATO and Turkey’s role in Syria.
The discussions took place online in May 2021 under Chatham House Rule in cooperation with the Chatham House Asia-Pacific Programme. This report summarises the results and presents policy recom- mendations. It reflects the analysis of the Körber Policy Game by Körber-Stiftung and Chatham House’s Asia-Pacific Programme and not necessarily the view of the participants.
In the past, PAXsims has pulled together lists of wargames (both serious and commercial) addressing current or future conflicts, such as the conflict in Ukraine (2014) or a potential Israeli attack on Iran (2011). We are going to do the same for a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. If you have suggestions, add them in the comments below.
The word “newsgame” became much more widely used in the game studies community when Ian Bogost, Simon Ferrari and Bobby Schweizer published Newsgames: Journalism at Play in 2011. In the book, Bogost described the basic objectives of journalism (to inform, educate, criticize and persuade) and how video games distributed through the Internet could improve the effectiveness of journalists in achieving those objectives, and possibly rescue their reputation and livelihood at the same time.
“Journalism games were a long shot, for reasons that had little to do with games and more to do with everything else happening in the media and tech industries…. Computers turned out to be the authoring and distribution system for 20th Century media, not hosts for procedural media like software and simulations. Those circumstances can partly explain the shift from games to gamification….”
I was not that surprised to read his post-mortem of the form, since neither the original book nor this “bookend” piece mentioned analog games at all, except for a discussion of crosswords and word puzzles appearing in newspapers. It is well known that this area of cultural studies, particularly in the United States, is almost completely devoted to computer and video games and is persistently ignorant both of its analog history and of the analog games that continue to be published alongside digital games.
The fact remains that the practice of producing analog or analog newsgames predates video games by a very long time and continues today. Many of them stand as more than just commemorative objects or ephemera; they are also fine examples of citizen-based social criticism and analytic journalism.
In this blog I will present examples of three general types of analog newsgame: the game that uses a “reskin” of a well-known popular game to make a point; the game that is an original design but nevertheless simple mechanics; and the historical board wargame, a procedurally heavy item informed by data and techniques of operational research.
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. Robert Crandall, Aaron Danis and Colin Marston suggested items for this latest edition.
The UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) recently held their inaugural influence wargame conference, in which participants “tested their influencing and decision-making skills against a series of real-life international scenarios.”
The event provided an opportunity for civil servants and military officers to experience wargames based on influencing behaviours using physical and non-physical force, share specialist knowledge and identify potential user requirements for further investigation.
Held on Monday 19 July at QinetiQ’s Training Innovation Facility, and attended by UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) and government representatives seeking to integrate influence activities into their areas of work, the event was organised by a multi-disciplinary team comprising members from across academia, industry and defence.
The conference showcased wargames developed as part of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory’s Representation of Behavioural Effects (RBE) project. The RBE project conducts science and technology (S&T) activities to improve the representation, integration and synchronisation of non-kinetic / behavioural effects in decision-support tools such as wargaming, modelling and simulation.
Wargames provide structured and safe-to-fail environments to help explore what works (winning / succeeding) and what doesn’t (losing / failing). At the core of wargames are: the players; the decisions they take; the narrative they create; their shared experiences; and the lessons they take away.
The work from this conference will help determine how better to wargame influence and how to include influence within wargames that have not considered it before. Incorporating influence within wargames will better represent the current and future character of warfare, as set out in the Integrated Review and thus better informing decision-making within UKgovernment.
The Defense Futures Simulator, created by the American Enterprise Institute, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, and War on the Rocks, “allows users to see how various defense strategies and budget choices would alter the Defense Department budget.”
According to Defense One, “A brutal loss in a wargaming exercise last October convinced the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. John Hyten to scrap joint warfighting concepts that had guided U.S. military operations for decades.”
The Pentagon would not provide the name of the wargame, which was classified, but a defense official said one of the scenarios revolved around a battle for Taiwan. One key lesson: gathering ships, aircraft, and other forces to concentrate and reinforce each other’s combat power also made them sitting ducks.
“We always aggregate to fight, and aggregate to survive. But in today’s world, with hypersonic missiles, with significant long-range fires coming at us from all domains, if you’re aggregated and everybody knows where you are, you’re vulnerable,” Hyten said.
Even more critically, the blue team lost access to its networks almost immediately.
“We basically attempted an information-dominance structure, where information was ubiquitous to our forces. Just like it was in the first Gulf War, just like it has been for the last 20 years, just like everybody in the world, including China and Russia, have watched us do for the last 30 years,” Hyten said. “Well, what happens if right from the beginning that information is not available? And that’s the big problem that we faced.”
The October exercise was a test for a new Joint Warfighting Concept. But the new joint concept had been largely based on the same joint operations concepts that had guided forces for decades, Hyten said, and the red team easily defeated them.
The Taiwan Strait is about 80 miles wide. Although a formidable obstacle to cross, time and distance factors clearly favor China, as the distance between California and Taiwan is over 6,000 miles. Furthermore, although the United States maintains a strong presence in the Indo-Pacific Theater, they clearly would be at a numerical disadvantage if the PLA decided to initiate an invasion. Finally, the PLA’s significant Area Denial/Anti-Access (A2/AD)capabilities mean that any effort to move a US force across the Pacific will be contested, possibly from CONUS itself all the way across the Pacific. To understand the challenge we face, it is imperative that we imagine what such a fight would entail.
In November 2020, I wrote a previous post arguing that wargaming can help us visualize what the threat can be. It can help us imagine it and provide context to our thinking about it. It can help us check our assumptions, and perhaps even offer thoughts and ideas that we would never have considered. It will not tell us the future, or lay out with certainty what will happen. But it can offer us an opportunity to prevent a failure of imagination of the kind warned against in the 9/11 Commission Report. By imagining the threat, we may be in a position to make better decisions during moments of crisis. This time, I’m using a copy of GMT Games “Next War: Taiwan” to help visualize what such a fight could entail.
In the end, China largely achieves its objectives
The campaign lasted less than a month. The Joint Force and its Allies performed well in all their engagements with the PLA. The PLA was a capable adversary, whose modernization created a peer competitor whose capabilities were in general, on par with US capabilities. In cases where US and PLA forces entered into direct combat with each other, US forces generally prevailed tactically. However, the PLA was able to achieve three key effects which tipped the operational and strategic fight their way:
They relied on a time and distance equation that was in China’s favor, and then further expanded it through the a surprise ballistic missile strike which mitigated forward deployed Allied airpower and then a sophisticated cyber/information attack against the US Homeland, which caused mass confusion among the civilian population and interdicted the Joint Force’s ability to flow reinforcements to the theater.
The PLA’s sophisticated and capable A2/AD capabilities were an obstacle that could not quickly be overcome. These capabilities also were extended by the coup de main operations to seize the outlying island territories in the Spratlys, Paracels, Penghu, and the Ryukyus. The Allies were forced to fight to clear the outlying islands, while the A2/AD capability allowed China to retain all-domain superiority at critical moments in the South China Sea and Taiwan Straits areas.
The PLA’s modernization efforts created a flexible force capable of carrying out its preferred way of war. This force was superior in terms of personnel and capabilities over its ROC adversary, and was on almost-even terms with the US Joint Force. With time and distance in its favor, and while holding all-domain advantages (or at least parity) at critical moments and areas of the battlespace, the PLA was able to wage a successful campaign.
In dealing with complex security issues and imperfect information, decision-makers frequently rely on mental models that limit their capacity to make fully rational decisions. Wargames can provide an innovative option for challenging assumptions based on past experience, exposing unassessed risk, and gaining insight into future events. This paper reports on five high-level wargames on the United States – North Korea nuclear standoff. Player actions, reflections, feedback, and anonymous surveys indicate that the games provided ample opportunity to understand different viewpoints, explore non-worst-case options, think about the unexpected, and expose the implications of subtle interactions.
The game used was based on the DPRK matrix game previously featured here at PAXsims.
Last year our WARGAMING ROOM editor, Ken Gilliam, sat down with a soon-to-graduate War College student to get her impression of the use of wargames in the classroom. A BETTER PEACE welcomes War College graduate Tina Cancel to the studio to share her thoughts and experiences with LEGO® Serious Play® and the War College created game, Joint Overmatch. Ken has recently retired and moved on to a new career and this was fitting as his final episode because Tina confirms the benefits of all of his hard work during his time as the Director of Strategic Wargaming at the Center for Strategic Leadership and gives him some great feedback to pass on to his successor.
Boutique board games have been around for years, but in the mid-2000s, as “Catan”—which was formerly called “Settlers of Catan,” and which also employs a colonist mechanism, this time in a fictional place—permeated the culture, people started latching on to a hobby most commonly associated with the fringes of nerdom. These games are far more involved than the Parker Brothers catalog, and their designers ask players to embrace complicated rule sets and deep critical thinking; players will rarely do something as simple as just rolling a die and moving a pawn. For a seemingly narrow market, it keeps growing: In 2020, the research firm Euromonitor International noted that the “games and puzzles” market had eclipsed $11 billion.
But recently, players have started asking more incisive questions about their hobby—questions that reach beyond design elegance or component quality, that get at the nature of games as political objects and whether they should be held to the same standards that we demand from our other entertainment. One of the longest active threads on the BoardGameGeek forums for “Puerto Rico” discusses the game’s sanguine perspective on colonialism. (“Puerto Rico is the only game I ever turned down even a single trial play of, because of a literal curl of my lip in distaste as I was being taught the game,” one user writes.) Earlier this year, the board-game YouTube channel No Rolls Barred uploaded something of a mea culpa for having recommended “Puerto Rico” as one of its favorite strategy games. In 2019, the war-gaming giant GMT canceled a game called “Scramble for Africa” after mounting objections from its customers.
But why did anyone look at that concept and think it was a good idea? Why did game designers ever fall in love with colonial fantasy anyway?
You can read more at the link above.
Controversy and Clarity, the podcast of the Warfighting Society, has recently interviewed a number of prominent professional wargamers, including Sebastian Bae, Tim Barrick, and Eric Walters. See the full lineup here.
The Register features a report on the Western Approaches museum in Liverpool, focusing on the role of the WRENS there and especially the Western Approaches Tactical Unit.
The upper floor of Derby House was home to the Western Approaches Tactical Unit under the command of Captain Gilbert Roberts, who had designed wargames while serving at the Royal Navy’s Tactical School in Portsmouth before the war, and his predominantly female staff from the Women’s Royal Naval Service or WRENs.
The task given to Roberts and his team when it was established on 1 January 1942 was simple – develop tactics for the Royal Navy that would defeat the U-boats and win the Battle of the Atlantic. Wargaming was Robert’s chosen medium, re-enacting Atlantic engagements and trying out new tactics in what looked like a vast and complex version of the popular board game Battleship.
By the time WATU closed in 1945 more than 5,000 naval officers had played the wargames run by Roberts and his WRENs (66 in all) and attended more than 130 different courses covering all aspects of anti-submarine warfare. And it wasn’t just the Royal Navy that benefited. Crews from the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa, Denmark, and Belgium to name but a few were trained in WATU’s tactics.
The final room of the museum gives a taste of what the WATU game floor would have looked like with its canvas booths and the plots of convoys, U-boats and escorts chalked out on the floor in different colours. The booths were designed to restrict the view of naval crews who came to train at WATU in such a way as to mimic the limited view they would have from the command decks of their warships.
On the floor, the chalk tracks of the U-boats were drawn in green, to make them invisible to the escort commanders in their booths.
The white chalk lines that denoted the position and course of the escorting warships and their merchantmen wards could be seen from the booths. In this way, WATU hoped to match the situation on the high seas as closely as possible.
DEV The Solution “s a nonprofit organization that encourages game development to help solve significant global problems. A major part of that will be hosting regular game jams centered around the theme of helping educate about real life challenges facing humankind as well as providing potential solutions.”
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. Aaron Danis and David Redpath suggested items for this latest edition.
The American Enterprise Institute, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and War on the Rocks have created a Defense Futures Simulator:
The Defense Futures Simulator will allow users to see how various defense strategies and choices would alter the Defense Department budget. A sophisticated data science algorithm will enable users to first decide whether they want to adjust the current strategy. For example, some users may focus on great-power competition, while others may prioritize counter-insurgency and counterterrorism. They will then be able to select a certain budget level or choose to work with an unconstrained budget. Once these inputs are finalized, the simulator will use the algorithm to reflect how the user’s strategic preferences and budget constraints might change the US military’s size, composition, and capabilities.
The Marine Corps Wargaming and Analysis Center is planned to open in summer 2023. The site is next to the Marine Corps University where mid-career and senior office and enlisted Marines attend.
That proximity means that planners can bring in Marines who are coming from the fleet to participate in planning or experiments and to provide feedback.
The center gives planners a way to run through everything from equipment strengths and weaknesses to entire campaign plans using existing capabilities and tactics or mid- to long-term anticipating capabilities.
Brig. Gen. Benjamin Watson, Marine Corps Warfighting Lab commander, told Marine Corps Times in an email statement that as the Corps works on concept development, experiments and exercises in the fleet both the positive and negative feedback will be sent to the wargaming center.
“Young Marines will see the benefit of expanded channels for feedback,” Watson said. “In the end, this will allow the Marine Corps to iteratively learn and continuously improve our organizational and capability investment decisions, ensuring that our plans and investments don’t just look good on paper, but are underpinned by rigorous wargaming and analysis.”
The U.S. Air Force repelled a Chinese invasion of Taiwan during a massive war game last fall by relying on drones acting as a sensing grid, an advanced sixth-generation fighter jet able to penetrate the most contested environments, cargo planes dropping pallets of guided munitions and other novel technologies yet unseen on the modern battlefield.
But the service’s success was ultimately pyrrhic. After much loss of life and equipment, the U.S. military was able to prevent a total takeover of Taiwan by confining Chinese forces to a single area.
Furthermore, the air force that fought in the simulated conflict isn’t one that exists today, nor is it one the service is seemingly on a path to realize. While legacy planes like the B-52 bomber and newer ones like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter played a role, many key technologies featured during the exercise are not in production or even planned for development by the service.
Still, the outcome was a marked improvement to similar war games held over the last two years, which ended in catastrophic losses. The Air Force’s performance this fall offers a clearer vision of what mix of aircraft, drones, networks and other weapons systems it will need in the next decade if it hopes to beat China in a potential war. Some of those items could influence fiscal 2023 budget deliberations.
Join our global community of developers, educators, students, and researchers virtually to ignite our imaginations about how games and immersive media can help us realize the potential of the years ahead and address our collective challenges: achieving equity and social justice, ensuring a thriving planet, and regaining a sense of security.
Three days of live-streamed talks, panels, and special announcements from the G4C and XR for Change communities
A series of round table discussions geared toward professional knowledge-sharing
An interactive virtual Expo featuring games, XR experiences, sponsors, and G4C programs.
The XR Immersive Arcade highlighting the newest emerging XR experiences for social impact
The Games for Change Awards Ceremony and G4C Awards Showcase celebrating the 2021 G4C Awards finalists!
Discord permits text, voice, and video communication. I deliberately chose not to use its videoconferencing capability and none of the students used it either. We communicated with each other solely through text messages. I believe this enhanced rather than degraded the experience in comparison to Webex — no black boxes instead of faces, and no interrupted video or audio because of low-bandwidth internet connections. A user interface that facilitates text communication also means Discord is suitable for running a simulation like Gerkhania asynchronously rather synchronously, something that isn’t realistic with video-based platforms.
My use of Discord also meant that students automatically had a complete record of the simulation’s events that they could reference for the final exam. I did not have to take any additional steps, like create and share a recording, for the class to have a history of what had transpired.
In early March, three students in Professor Aaron Danis’ Counterterrorism and the Democracies course at the Institute for World Politics (IWP 669) recreated the initial rise of the now largely-defunct Peruvian insurgent and terrorist group Sendero Luminoso, using a digital version of Brian Train’s wargame Shining Path. An account of their experience can be found here.
The Winter 2021 newletter of the US Naval Postgraduate School’s Naval Warfare Studies Institute Wargaming Center was published last month, with updates on recent wargames and related activities.
The Reacting to the Past consortium is planning a “Summer of Reacting,” with Part 1 to be held in June.
The board and administration of the Reacting Consortium have decided to offer a variety of games over the course of thesummer, allowing faculty around the country (and the world) the opportunity to play multiple games, and to experiencethe Reacting pedagogy online. Our hope is that by providing a broad array of games and methods for using them, facultywill be able to plan more effectively and confidently for the coming academic year, no matter the circumstances.
This summer includes three conference periods: Summer of Reacting – Part I (June) Game Development Conference (early July) Summer of Reacting – Part II (late July – mid August)
The Reacting Consortium is committed to diversity, equity, inclusion, justice, and belonging. These values inform ourwork to foster an accessible community, our approach to game development, and our determination to contend with “bigideas.” Thanks to our Fundraising Committee and the generosity of our community, we have reserved a few fundedspots in the Summer of Reacting for instructors who are teaching at minority serving institutions (HBCUs, TribalColleges and Universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, etc).
PAXsims is pleased to offer some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) games that may be of interest to our readers. Many thanks to Scott Cooper, Aaron Danis, Bruce Pennell, Hans Steensma, and others for suggesting material for this latest edition.
The Connections North 2021 professional (war)gaming virtual conference is on 19-21 February—and ticket sales close on Thursday, so hurry up and register! A copy of the conference programme can be found on the registration page, and the Zoom link for the conference will emailed to all registrants a day before the conference starts (if you haven’t received it already).
In military organizations, the use of wargaming is a tempting approach to introduce learning and engage discussion. The most readily available pool of games is the hundreds of titles available from the commercial wargame industry. Is it feasible to use commercial off the shelf (COTS) games as learning platforms? What type of learning is possible, and to what extent can it occur? What about the underlying game mechanics sometimes referred to as the Black Box? Are they an insurmountable problem in employing commercial games?
To evaluate these questions, it is important to examine the issues of the Black Box, evaluate how the end user may learn from games, explore what COTS games can provide, and finally offer a hybrid solution or game requirements not met by COTS products. To begin I think it is important to deal with the most common obstacle presented by critics of commercial games, the Black Box problem.
In case you missed the announcement back in December, the UK Ministry of Defence is establishing the Secretary of State’s Office of Net Assessment and Challenge (SONAC), based on the US Department of Defense model. According to Defence Secretary Ben Wallace:
The Secretary of State’s Office of Net Assessment and Challenge (SONAC) will encompass war gaming, doctrine, red teaming and external academic analysis.
It will focus and enhance existing efforts, work closely with Defence Intelligence and look across all areas of defence, especially doctrine and the equipment choices we are making.
The latest quarterly report (Fall 2020/Q1 FY2021) of the US Naval Postgraduate School’s Naval Warfare Studies Institute (NWSI) can be found below. It addresses NPS wargaming courses, outreach, conference presentations, publications, thesis research, and other work.
According to Breaking Defense, the US Department of Defense “will include climate change-related issues in its National Defense Strategy and war gaming, a major change driven by President Biden signing of an executive order today instructing the government to begin tackling climate change on a wider scale.”
Biden’s order directs the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to include climate risk assessments in developing a new National Defense Strategy, due in 2022, along with the Defense Planning Guidance, the Chairman’s Risk Assessment, “and other relevant strategy, planning, and programming documents and processes.”
The order gives the Pentagon and other federal agencies 120 days to produce “an analysis of the security implications of climate change (Climate Risk Analysis) that can be incorporated into modeling, simulation, war-gaming, and other analyses.”
On 15-19 March, the Military Operations Research Society (MORS) will offer a certificate course in cyber wargaming, taught by Ed McGrady and Paul Vebber.
Through a combination of lectures and practical exercises focusing on games and game design, along with the application of game design to cyber issues, we will examine the challenges of cyber gaming. Students will learn how game design can be used to address challenges of cyber operations and policy and will build an understanding of how to represent cyber capabilities in games, as well as build games directly addressing cyber operations.
This three-day course will focus on the application of professional games to the problems associated with disease response and will cover pandemic response games, both national and international. The objective throughout the course will be to identify unique or challenging aspects involved in designing games involving disease response. The current pandemic is a reminder that disease can produce unusual, unique, and difficult challenges for decision-makers at all levels of government.
On an early December Saturday, ten students in Professor Aaron Danis’ Violent Non-State Actors in the Contemporary Security Environment course (IWP 683), joined by another of Prof. Danis’ students and four IWP undergraduate interns, played the first virtual iteration of a wargame about the summer 2014 crisis when ISIS forces broke out of Syria and overran a sizeable chunk of northern Iraq, to include the major Iraqi city of Mosul. Unlike the previous three times this wargame was played in class, this one had to be played out over Zoom.
“It took some indispensable help from the professional wargame team at the U.S. Army War College, but we were able to get the essence of the game into an online format,” said Prof. Danis.
In a typical game, students and interns represent one of six teams: three state actors (the United States, Iraq, and Iran) and three non-state actors (ISIS, the Kurds, and the Sunni tribes of Iraq). Each team develops a strategy using the tools of statecraft prior to the game that they then apply against live opponents who are either working with or against them. “The strategies are graded based on content and how well the teams implement them,” said Prof. Danis.
Each game turn represents 2-4 weeks of real time, so a full 6-turn game will cover the 6 crucial months when the United States, Iraq, and its new Coalition allies tried to stem the ISIS tide before the group could take Baghdad.
But when is a toy soldier not a toy soldier? The answer; when a world war is looming and it becomes a vital training aid to help Britain prepare for the terrifying ordeal of the Blitz.
In April 1937, in response to the growing threat of conflict in Europe and the aerial bombing of civilians in the Spanish Civil War, the government decided to create the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) service. Its job would be to protect civilians from the danger of air raids as well as help those caught up in the bombing.
During the next 12 months this volunteer organisation swelled to over 20,000 members. Training was based on the experiences of both World War I and the Spanish Civil War, with aerial bombing and gas attacks seen as the main threats. It also became clear that ambulance and other medical services would need to train with ARP wardens in advance of the predicted heavy casualties.
The best way to do this was through live exercises on the streets of towns and cities across the country. However it was thought that such exercises would have a detrimental effect on the morale of the civilians they sought to help and protect, bringing too close to home the fears of aerial bombardment. So the next best idea was to perform tactical exercises within the confines of offices, church and drill halls using miniatures.
At this point two toy companies entered the scene; William Britain, and Taylor and Barrett. Both were established and hugely successful manufacturers of lead model figures. Indeed by 1939 Britain’s was the biggest maker of toy soldiers in the world….
Does your wargaming organization encourage diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming? Then you might want to join the many supporters of the Derby House Principles. We still have some Derby House Principles pins left too!
PAXsims is pleased to offer some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) games that may be of interest to our readers. I’ve been a bit swamped as of late, so sorry for the delay!
Aaron Danis and Steve Sowards (and probably several others that I have forgotten to credit) suggested material for this latest edition.
On December 2, the Public Health Agency of Canada and Canadian Armed Forces, in collaboration with Defence Research and Development Canada and McGill University, conducted a day-long tabletop exercise on Canada’s vaccine rollout plans involving more than 150 participants from eight federal government agencies, all ten provinces and three territories, and the Canadian Red Cross. This TTX was proceeded by a week of “red team” exercises to identify potential contingencies and undertake a preliminary risk assessment.
At some future point we may write something up about it for PAXsims. You will certainly be able to hear about it at the next Connections North conference, which will be held online on 19-21 February 2021. Save the date, and look out for the conference and registration details soon at PAXsims.
The Office of Emergency Management helps organize and protects elections in Philadelphia, preparing for everything from power outages to bomb scares. But for this election, it also had to prepare for a disinformation campaign from the White House. For the tabletop exercises it ran before the election, the office designed mock-ups of inflammatory social-media posts from the president and gamed out its responses. Seth Bluestein, who participated in the exercises, told me, “It was uncanny how accurate they were.”
To American intelligence experts, two things have become clear: Certain parts of the world might one day use the effects of climate change as rungs on a ladder toward greater influence and prosperity. And the United States, despite its not-unfavorable position geographically, is more likely to lose than win — not least because so many of its leaders have failed to imagine the magnitude of the transformations to come.
For John Podesta, the profound geopolitical challenges posed by climate change first became clear in July 2008, not long before he took charge of President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team. That month, he took part in a war game hosted by the Center for New American Security, a Washington-based research group. The room was full of people who were, like him, awaiting their chance to re-enter influential positions in the American government. Around the table in a private conference room at the Newseum in Washington, were former U.S. military officials, a former E.P.A. administrator, advisers to Chinese intelligence officials, analysts from McKinsey and the Brookings Institution and at least one European diplomat. “Let me be very clear,” Podesta told the gathering, in his assigned role as the United Nations secretary general. “Our time is running out.”
The exercise was set in 2015, with the climate crisis becoming violently apparent. A Category 5 hurricane had struck Miami shortly after a cyclone killed 200,000 people in Bangladesh. The scenario was designed by a senior fellow at the Center for New American Security named Sharon Burke, who would later become an assistant U.S. secretary of defense; her game plan suggested that a wave of climate migrants would be driven from their homes, part of the climate-caused displacement of as many as a billion people by 2050. One significant question put to the group then was how the United States, Europe, China and India would respond to that enormous migration and whether they could agree on what obligations under international law nations should have to care for migrants.
It wasn’t easy. None of the countries involved wanted to open the door to being obliged to take climate migrants in, Burke told me. The participants clashed over whether climate migrants could be called “refugees” at all, given the U.N.’s insistence on reserving that term for those persecuted or forced to flee. They wound up deciding the word should be applied only to victims of climate-driven disasters, not those suffering from slow-onset change like drought. In the end, the players were reluctant to face the migration challenges in depth — a worrisome sign that, in the real world, wealthy nations like the United States would be likely to cling to the status quo even as large-scale humanitarian crises begin to unfold. “One of the insights we got was that migration was just an absolute no-go zone,” Burke said. “I wasn’t expecting that.”
The game marked a turning point of sorts in how some U.S. officials viewed the security threats posed by climate change. In 2010, in what was a rare and early official assessment of climate risk, the U.S. Department of Defense’s Quadrennial Defense Review warned that climate change “could have significant geopolitical impacts,” contributing to poverty, starvation, drought and the spread of disease, all of which would “spur or exacerbate mass migration.” By 2014, the Defense Department had applied the term “threat multiplier” to climate change, describing how it would make many of the security establishment’s greatest nightmares even worse. By the time Podesta went to China in late 2014 to negotiate an emissions agreement — a diplomatic feat that laid the groundwork for the Paris climate accord — he had come to believe that it was climate-driven food scarcity that posed the dominant threat to global security and to American interests. He saw that scarcity, and the migration it would cause, as leading to a fundamental, perhaps dangerous shift in the geopolitical balance of the world. “We were just at the beginning of the imagining of how big the problem was,” Podesta told me.
From February 4-6, 2020, Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA conducted its unclassified Tabletop Exercise (TTX) Pacific Trident III, bringing together policy experts from the United States, Japan, Korea and other countries to examine pressing security issues in East Asia through simulated real-world contingencies.
In this TTX, Beijing served as the primary challenger to both the U.S.-Japan and the U.S.-South Korean Alliances, with Pyongyang acting as a willing “co-conspirator.” Beijing’s objectives were to undermine confidence in the U.S. security guarantee among its allies in East Asia and to achieve further territorial gains in the South China Sea. The strategy was to make multiple challenges across the region without provoking conflict. The simulated date at the start of play was August 1, 2020 with the end date as October 2, 2020—just weeks away from the U.S. Presidential Election.
The Georgetown University Wargaming Society (GUWS) continues to host presentations from wargamin designers and scholars—including a recent presentation by Ivanka Barzashka on “Lessons Learnt from Building the King’s Wargaming Network” (below). Check out their website for past and future presentations.
Divergent Options and GUWS have partnered to issue a call for papers on wargaming in 2021. You’ll find more details at the Divergent Options website.
The U.S. Department of Defense has failed to educate generations of military officers on the skills of wargaming. Wargaming creates the environment in which uniformed leaders practice decision-making against an active, thinking adversary. Wargaming is also required by the Department of Defense’s planning process to create sound and executable plans, is inherent to designing new doctrine and operational concepts, and is a vital element in the cycle of research.
For these reasons, military leaders must have the ability to create and conduct wargames. However, the current military education process does not impart this critical knowledge.
It often happens that, when gaming a series of future events, a game within a game presents itself. The most recent example was in our game ‘The Dragon, The Bear, And The Steppe‘ (see here for more detail). This game contained a military engagement on the Caspian Sea and in south Turkmenistan between Russia, the US, and Kazakhstan on one side; and China and the Taliban on the other; with Iran intervening to act defensively. We dubbed this the ‘Battle Of Turkmenbashi 2045‘ (see here for more detail).
Without going into the detail of how we would play the Battle of Turkmenbashi as a stand alone game, the whole concept of the game within a game set me thinking about the question of nested gaming. To begin with, ought we to confine ourselves to a single game within a game? Could there be more than one? In many ways, the idea of a succession of nested games within a game is the core of campaign gaming. A situation where a single event does not necessarily shape the eventual outcome, and where subsequent events can have a more decisive impact the other way. For example, the campaign in France in 1940 didn’t settle the Second World War. From the Allied defeat came the basis for their eventual victory as fortunes eventually turned in favour of the Allies.
How would the United States respond if China or another adversary launched a missile against a vital communications satellite? Is that a clear red line that would result in an immediate military response? And what happens if the U.S. military does — or doesn’t — react?
In the past, military leaders have been better prepared to answer such tough questions than they are now. Consider that during the period between the world wars, the U.S. Navy alone conducted more than 300 wargames focused on future campaigns and tactics in addition to theater-level strategies. The Navy recognized that wargames could skewer erroneous assumptions and complacencies long before the heat of battle, and this effort very likely saved lives. Famously, Admiral Chester Nimitz claimed in the aftermath of World War II that Naval War College wargaming conducted to inform Allied planning ensured that “nothing that happened during the war was a surprise … except the kamikaze tactics.”
Now, both uniformed and civilian national security space leaders need to take advantage of space war games to prepare for deterring and defeating aggression in space. The benefits of expanding investment in space wargaming for these purposes far outweigh the relatively minor investments required to get more of them underway.
Wargaming gets a bad rep. Like reading doctrine, or wearing yesterday’s underpants, it is not something you necessarily want to admit to in public. We are coloured by our predjudices; wargaming is either the horror step of Course of Action development or something that involves buying tiny soldiers and spending weeks painting them.
That was certainly my view prior to undertaking a course on the design and use of wargames within training last summer. Having spent nearly a year designing a game for training Divisional level deception, I can say I am changed.
Wargaming presents an excellent vehicle for developing experience in thinking and decision making. What is more, is it does this with little cost, little risk and resource requirement. While I am lucky to have some future time in the Army left to incorporate wargaming into training, I cannot help thinking about the opportunities that I have missed where the use of games could have significantly helped develop those around me….
The Marine Corps is building a new state-of-the-art facility where it will run classified wargaming scenarios in preparation for a fight with a high-tech enemy.
A new Marine Corps Wargaming and Analysis Center is expected to be up and running in Quantico, Virginia, by 2024. The 100,000-square foot center, which will be built on the Marine Corps University campus, will host more than a dozen wargames every year — including two large-scale, 250-person exercises, a new announcement on the center states.
Taiwan began five days of computer-aided war games on Monday, simulating an attack on the island by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
The drills are part of the Han Kuang exercises, Taiwan’s largest annual war games. An earlier phase of the exercises in July included live-fire drills.
The war games were designed to test Taiwanese commanders’ ability to adopt the right defence strategy and coordinate different forces while under attack, the defence ministry said.
The five-day exercise is being held at the defence ministry’s joint training centre in Taipei and is being observed by experts from the National Defence University.
The drills will also use the Joint Theatre Level Simulation (JTLS) system bought from the US to simulate combined operations.
The JTLS was designed to create a realistic environment in which military commanders could operate as they would in a real-world situation, the source said, adding that it would help them to hone their decision-making skills and work out how to counter various attacks.
Operational data collected during the exercise would later be sent to the US experts for analysis and feedback, the person said.
It’s hard to overstate the influence that the COIN series of games has had on the wargaming world over the past decade. Heck, its influence has gone beyond just wargaming (Root!), unless you write for Meeple Mountain. They’ve been covered in the Washington Post, and used by the military for training exercises. Volko Ruhnke, the godfather of the COIN series games, even spent a few hours with GUWS explaining how to design one.
In our wargaming program at Origins, the COIN games have been a popular addition, largely because they are designed for 4 players, so we can get more gamers around the table than with something like Ft Sumter. One year, we actually had to get out a GM’s personal copy of Liberty or Death to start a third full 4-player table, because there were so many interested gamers that wanted to join the fun.
However, there’s a set of modifications that we made to the COIN games – specifically A Distant Plain – that went beyond the traditional 4-player experience. By crafting each faction as a team, and moving much of the interpersonal diplomacy, horse-trading, backstabbing, etc away from the board itself, we’ve evolved the basic 4-player game into a more free-wheeling and dynamic environment that dramatically reduces the opportunity for analysis paralysis, amps up the possibility… nay, ‘likelihood’ of confusion and fog of war, and keeps the game moving to where everyone stays involved at all times….
I’ve run an awful lot of history-themed RPGs and written a few. It’s an area I love gaming in, both taken straight, and mixed with a dose of fantastic elements. Yet I would be doing the topic an injustice if I did not admit there are difficulties, both in subject matter and attitudes. So what are they, and how can you overcome them?
The focus here is Medieval Europe and the Ancient World, as that’s where I have the most experience. But much of what I say you can apply to other times and places.
Curiously, the TIP did not test a scenario in which Trump wins by a landslide. Nor did the organization consider the possibility of a narrow Trump victory and a refusal by Biden to concede – a possibility raised by Hillary Clinton, who urged Biden last month not to concede “under any circumstances,” and to launch a “massive legal operation” in the event of a narrow Trump win on election night.
Regardless of the result, some top Democrats have called for continued “unrest in the streets” after November’s election. Kamala Harris, Biden’s running mate, said earlier this summer that the riots sweeping America are “not gonna stop before election day in November, and they’re not gonna stop after election day. They’re not gonna let up and they should not.”
Democrats are laying the groundwork for revolution right in front of our eyes.
As if 2020 were not insane enough already, we now have Democrats and their ruling class masters openly talking about staging a coup. You might have missed it, what with the riots, lockdowns and other daily mayhem we’re forced to endure in this, the most wretched year of my lifetime. But it’s happening.
One might dismiss such comments as the ravings of a dementia patient and a has-been who never got over his own electoral loss. But before you do, consider also this. Over the summer a story was deliberately leaked to the press of a meeting at which 100 Democratic grandees, anti-Trump former Republicans, and other ruling class apparatchiks got together (on George Soros’s dime) to “game out” various outcomes of the 2020 election. One such outcome was a clear Trump win. In that eventuality, former Bill Clinton White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, playing Biden, refused to concede, pressured states that Trump won to send Democrats to the formal Electoral College vote, and trusted that the military would take care of the rest.
The leaked report from the exercise darkly concluded that “technocratic solutions, courts, and reliance on elites observing norms are not the answer here,” promising that what would follow the November election would be “a street fight, not a legal battle.”
These items are, to repeat, merely a short but representative list of what Byron York recently labeled “coup porn.” York seems to think this is just harmless fantasizing on the part of the ruling class and its Democratic servants. For some of them, no doubt that’s true. But for all of them? I’m not so sure.
In his famously exhaustive discussion of conspiracies, Machiavelli goes out of his way to emphasize the indispensability of “operational security”—i.e., silence—to success. The first rule of conspiracy is, you do not talk about the conspiracy. The second rule of conspiracy is, you do not talk about the conspiracy.
So why are the Democrats—publicly—talking about the conspiracy?
Because they know that, for it to succeed, it must not look like a conspiracy. They need to plant the idea in the public mind, now, that their unlawful and illegitimate removal of President Trump from office will somehow be his fault.
Never mind the pesky detail that the president would refuse to leave only if he were convinced he legitimately won. Remember: Biden should not concede underanycircumstances.
The second part of the plan is either to produce enough harvested ballots—lawfully or not—to tip close states, or else dispute the results in close states and insist, no matter what the tally says, that Biden won them. The worst-case scenario (for the country, but not for the ruling class) would be results in a handful of states that are so ambiguous and hotly disputed that no one can rightly say who won. Of course, that will not stop the Democrats from insisting that they won.
The public preparation for that has also already begun: streams of stories and social media posts “explaining” how, while on election night it might look as if Trump won, close states will tip to Biden as all the mail-in ballots are “counted.”
The third piece is to get the vast and loud Dem-Left propaganda machine ready for war. That leaked report exhorted Democrats to identify “key influencers in the media and among local activists who can affect political perceptions and mobilize political action…[who could] establish pre-commitments to playing a constructive role in event of a contested election.” I.e., in blaring from every rooftop that “Trump lost.”
At this point, it’s safe to assume that unless Trump wins in a blowout that can’t be overcome by cheating and/or denied via the ruling class’s massive propaganda operation, that’s exactly what every Democratic politician and media organ will shout.
As someone who routinely games political transitions for a living, this all strikes me as bizarre conspiracy theory stuff, undoubtedly amplified by the certain social media ecosystems as well as actors like Russia Today. Given that Pizzagate led one deranged individual to open fire at a pizza restaurant with a rifle, so I hope all concerned are taking appropriate precautions.
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.
Aaron Danis, Adam Elkus, Brant Guillory, Steven Sowards, James Sterrett, and Paul Strong suggested material for this latest edition.
According to the Financial Times, “UK defence chiefs are seeking to fast-track new virtual reality technology developed by a British gaming company to create a digital replica of the country, arguing this would help test resilience to future pandemics, natural disasters and attacks by hostile states.”
The Ministry of Defence has already spent more than £25m on contracts with software developer Improbable — which has pioneered the technology — to investigate its potential. Insiders say the government’s difficulties in co-ordinating national data and responses during the coronavirus crisis have persuaded ministers of the benefits of the system, known as a “single synthetic environment”, which is now likely to be accelerated in autumn’s integrated defence and security review.
The technology works by generating a virtual “twin” of any location by layering maps of geographical terrain and critical infrastructure with details of fuel, power and water supplies as well as telecoms networks, supermarket distribution systems and weather patterns. This can be combined with locations of where people are, based on phone signals, and what they’re thinking about, gleaned from social media.
The final product uses artificial intelligence to simulate future scenarios and allows operators to “war game” their responses. Herman Narula, chief executive of Improbable, has in the past jokingly compared this to “building the Matrix”, in reference to the science fiction film in which humans exist inside a simulated reality. Real-world uses could range from forecasting the damage from natural disasters such as floods to calculating the effect of a cyber attack against a power station or presenting simulated hostage rescue scenarios to the government’s Cobra emergency committee.
Despite the substantial advantages of data visualization and big data, and the potential contributions of AI, I’m a little dubious that all of this will necessarily deliver quicker or greater insight into issues like pandemic response than analogue wargame techniques (although it is certain to be more expensive).
IN JULY 2015, two founders of DeepMind, a division of Alphabet with a reputation for pushing the boundaries of artificial intelligence, were among the first to sign an open letterurging the world’s governments to ban work on lethal AI weapons. Notable signatories included Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and Jack Dorsey.
Last week, a technique popularized by DeepMind was adapted to control an autonomous F-16 fighter plane in a Pentagon-funded contest to show off the capabilities of AI systems. In the final stage of the event, a similar algorithm went head-to-head with a real F-16 pilot using a VR headset and simulator controls. The AI pilot won, 5-0.
On the backdrop of the spread of Covid-19 and the worsening economic crisis in Lebanon, the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) at the interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC) conducted a unique four months unique simulation (see methodology herein below) which examined the possible ramifications of various deterioration scenarios in Lebanon. The simulation started in April 2020 and ended just days prior to the explosion at the Port of Beirut.
The simulation took place via an online a synchronic platform and had multiple participants, all experts in their fields, that represented the Lebanese and international actors relevant to the scenarios discussed (see Appendix A for a list of the simulation’s participants). These experts chose the preferred strategies of the actors they had represented and by doing so affected the development of the scenarios played. In our opinion, this simulative process is the most appropriate predictor of future trends in Lebanon.
At the backdrop of the simulation were the following opening data items: Lebanon has been suffering from a large number of Covid-19 patients which made it difficult for the Lebanese healthcare system to treat all of them and in fact brought it to the brink of collapse. Further, Lebanon has been suffering from an acute economic crisis that has been rapidly deteriorating, accompanied by high unemployment, internal instability, mass and violent demonstrations. On this backdrop, there is an increasing internal criticism as well as protests against Hezbollah and Iran which are being accused inter alia of importing the virus into Lebanon and neglecting the state in its time of need.
In light of the above opening data items which led to the collapse of the Lebanese government at the outset of the simulation, three alternative opening scenarios have been examined, each of which posed a different challenge to internal Lebanese system, the regional arena and of course, Israel, as follows:
An emergency government is formed which imposes an austerity regime and devalues Hezbollah’s stature.
Hezbollah conducts a military coup and installs martial law attempting to recover Lebanon.
Lebanon deteriorates into a complete chaos on the verge of a civil war, when every faction tries to fend for itself and survive on its own.
Needless to say, in light of the explosion at the Port of Beirut and the resignation of the Lebanese government on August 10th, 2020 it seems that reality has reached a point where each of the above opening scenarios may happen in the upcoming weeks or months which renders the findings of the simulation even more relevant and valuable.
As a scholar who occasionally writes on Lebanon, I’m a little puzzled by the lack of attention given to the “Hezbollah conducts a military coup” action. Was this a coup by the Lebanese Army (not all of which supports Hezbollah)? Did it have the support of (Christian) President Aoun, a Hezbollah ally? How did military units respond, especially those that are not predominantly Shi’ite? Did Hezbollah use its own cadres as well? Under what authority would martial law be declared? There also doesn’t seem to be deep attention to the economic and fiscal issues involved—an “austerity regime” in and of itself won’t really solve the current economic crisis. Finally, I just don’t see what possible configuration of emergency government would take action against Hezbollah, given the distribution of parliamentary and political power in the country. However, there is always a trade-off in crisis games between breadth, playability, and fidelity.
Speaking of countries beset by economic crisis, public protests, and the widespread availability of small arms, the Shutdown DC activist project is running an online simulation of potential challenges to democracy during the upcoming US election in November.
This fall we are going to experience one of the most contentious – and most chaotic – elections in recent history. We have a sitting president who is consistently refusing to accept the outcome of the election, record numbers of voters relying on absentee balloting, and a federal government bent on attacking our democratic institutions.
We don’t know exactly how things are going to play out this fall, but we do know that we need to be ready to take bold direct action to confront attacks on our democratic process and our communities. Join #ShutDownDC for Timeline to a Meltdown: 2020 Election Simulation. We’ll divide into teams, each representing different players in our social movement landscape. Then we’ll be introduced to a set of hypothetical (but entirely likely) scenarios that we may face during this election cycle. Each team will work to develop action plans to respond to the scenario, anticipate how other movement actors will respond, and build capacity for collective action to build the world we want to live in.
The game starts at 6pm eastern on Friday, August 28th. All are welcome but please register before noon on August 28.
The US keeps losing, hard, in simulated wars with Russia and China. Bases burn. Warships sink. But we could fix the problem for about $24 billion a year, one well-connected expert said, less than four percent of the Pentagon budget.
“In our games, when we fight Russia and China,” RAND analyst David Ochmanek said this afternoon, “blue gets its ass handed to it.” In other words, in RAND’s wargames, which are often sponsored by the Pentagon, the US forces — colored blue on wargame maps — suffer heavy losses in one scenario after another and still can’t stop Russia or China — red — from achieving their objectives, like overrunning US allies.
No, it’s not a Red Dawn nightmare scenario where the Commies conquer Colorado. But losing the Baltics or Taiwan would shatter American alliances, shock the global economy, and topple the world order the US has led since World War II.
Entire teams of people spend their days imagining what might happen in a crisis to ensure we can be better prepared for when the worst really does happen.I
It was a gigantic explosion. The blast tore through buildings and machinery, lighting up a huge refinery complex in Denver, Colorado. Gasoline production at the facility shut down for weeks as a result, leading to fuel reserves in Colorado quickly being used up.
Pipelines from Wyoming, Texas and Kansas brought additional fuel to Colorado to make up for the fall in supply, but it meant fuel destined for other nearby states was curtailed. As it all unfolded, fuel prices across the region swelled.
The aftermath of the explosion was a troubling example of how a single event can ricochet through systems, supply chains and a country.
Except, none of this ever happened. It’s just a scenario played out in a series of calculations – a simulation – published in 2015 by Sandia National Laboratories in the US. The team that modelled the fuel pipeline flows in this make-believe disaster considered a number of other “disruptions” in their report, including an oil spill in Boston harbour, earthquakes in California and a Category 5 hurricane slamming into the Gulf Coast.
“Before something bad happens, we provide a better understanding of how to prevent those things or how to mitigate them when they do occur,” explains Kevin Stamber, who heads the critical infrastructure analysis team at Sandia. He’s spent 20 years working on a stark problem: what can we expect if the worst should happen?
Gaming has come of age in recent years. In France and across the rest of Europe, there has been an increase in symposia and seminars on the subject of role-playing games and the “gamification” of society. Games themselves are objects of curiosity and have become the topic of university research in the areas of history, sociology and literature.
Antoine Bourguilleau’s book, Jouer la Guerre [Playing at War], contributes to this research and focusses on a type of game at the frontier between the civil and military worlds. Bourguilleau studied under military historian Hervé Drevillon, and he retraces the history of war simulation games from their Germanic origin in the 18th century to the modern era. He provides us with an in-depth and scholarly study of these Kriegsspiele, German word for “wargames”, a sort of “serious playing” used in the 19th century for training Prussian officers, and the war games later used for projecting the potentially fatal outcome of the Cold War.
Antoine Bourguilleau explores these games in all their manifestations, from staff war games to commercial board games, as well as the scenario created by science fiction author H.G. Wells in his book War of the Worlds. He explores the (sometimes complex) rules of these games, which strive to reflect the reality of a warlike confrontation. This book is rich with insight and allows the reader to approach military history from an underappreciated and still relatively little-studied angle. The author has kindly answered a few questions for napoleon.org.
The Nuclear Threat Initiative has produced Hair Trigger, a mobile game on nuclear crisis and escalation.
At the height of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union put their nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert, ready to retaliate against a surprise attack. Even now, decades later, the United States and Russia combined have about 1,700 missiles armed, aimed, and ready to fire in minutes.
What if a warning of an incoming attack turns out to be false—but a U.S. or Russian president doesn’t learn that until after ordering a retaliatory strike? What if a command-and-control system is hacked to spoof an incoming attack?
As President of the United States, you’ll navigate competing pressures to build domestic support and manage international relations, in a race against time to cooperate with Russia to remove all nuclear weapons from hair-trigger status. The game offers a fun and engaging challenge designed to generate curiosity, conversation, and action—but the risks couldn’t be more real.
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PAXsims is pleased to provide some recent items on conflict simulation and serrious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers. Our thanks to Jeremy Sepinsky and Paul Kearney for suggesting material for this latest edition.
While hobby wargaming has a plethora of outlets during this global pandemic, the same cannot be said for professional wargaming.
The pandemic has completely disrupted professional wargaming, which is typically played en masse and in person. Hundreds of people tend to gather for the signature “Title 10” wargames of each service, such as the Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Warrior or the Navy’s Global wargames. These events bring together the artists, scientists, and practitioners of military disciplines to practice, explore, and critique the newest concepts the U.S. military will face or bring to bear. But in the last three months, all of CNA’s in-person wargames have been postponed or cancelled, and the larger military events have mostly been postponed, cancelled, or significantly scaled back.
In this time when virtual meetings are becoming the norm, it may seem obvious to simply start running these wargames online. But shifting entire wargames to virtual events can never fully replace in-person events. A successful wargame is inherently a many-to-many conversation, in which disparate participants from a broad range of organizations gather to share their unique perspectives. Virtual platforms are not yet able to duplicate the experience.
But wargames are simply too critical to the national planning processes and to developing senior leaders for us to simply throw up our hands and wait for a COVID-19 vaccine. We must learn to execute virtual wargames that yield at least some of the same impact and insight. And so we have to reckon with their many challenges.
The Military Operations Research Society has a series of wargaming courses coming up:
UPDATE: MORS has decided to make all of its events virtual for the duration of 2020.
On his present trajectory, President Trump is heading for a whopping defeat in November. The Economist says there’s nearly a 99 percent chance that Joe Biden will win more popular votes and around a 90 percent chance that he will win more electoral college votes. But what if Trump won’t concede defeat? That is a nightmare scenario for our democracy that could make the 2000 showdown over Florida’s hanging chads seem like a grade-school dispute by comparison…
The scenario we were given predicted a narrow Biden victory in the electoral college: 278 to 260. Various participants played the role of the Trump campaign, the Biden campaign, Republican and Democratic elected officials, the news media, and other key players to see what would happen next.
I was on Team Trump and, needless to say, we did not concede defeat. Instead, we went to work, ruthlessly and unscrupulously, utilizing every ounce of power at our disposal, to secure the 10 electoral college votes to swing the election. We focused our attention on three of the swing states that Biden won in our scenario — Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — because, in all three, Republicans control both branches of the legislature. Normally, the governor certifies the election results, and in all three states the governor is a Democrat. But there is nothing to prevent the legislature from certifying a different election outcome.
The danger of an undemocratic outcome only grows in other scenarios that were “war gamed” by other participants. For instance, what if there is no clear-cut winner on election night, with Biden narrowly ahead in the electoral college but with Michigan, North Carolina and Florida still too close to call? The participants in that war game concluded the result would be “near civil war in the streets.” Far-fetched rumors are enough to bring out armed right-wing militias today; imagine how they would respond if they imagined that there was an actual plot afoot to steal the election from their hero.AD
It is impossible to write off such concerns as far-fetched given how many seemingly far-fetched things have already occurred in the past four years.Trump got himself impeached by trying to blackmail a foreign country into helping his reelection campaign. He will stop at nothing to avoid the stigma of being branded a “loser.” Unless Biden wins by an electoral college margin that no one can credibly dispute, our democracy may be imperiled as never before. We had better start thinking now about how we would handle such an electoral crisis.
The North American Simulation and Gaming Association is launching doversity scholarship, in connection with its annual conference:
At NASAGA, fairness and equity are key values. In our games, we recognize the importance of the system engine underlying the game environment. A character may have highly beneficial stats in certain attributes, but if the environment is set up against them to constantly sap their stamina based on a stat they’re not specced for, game play will be devastatingly unfair. We realize that our Black brothers and sisters are facing this very challenge every day through four centuries of systemic racial discrimination and oppression. We are uniting to focus our support on those who face the deepest hits to their stamina.
To put action to our words, we are instituting a scholarship specifically to support and encourage People of Color in our educational gaming world. Starting in the fall of 2020, this scholarship will be available to our Black and Brown community to break down gates in our corner of the gaming world. It will be awarded to support attendance at our conference each year.
In late 2017, Headquarters Forces Command hosted a Wargaming Conference with the aim of re-invigorating wargaming as a skill within the Australian Army. The need had been identified in the lessons learned from the HAMEL series over a number of years; the Australian Army was recognising that the wargaming skills of its officers and soldiers had languished in recent years. The Australian Army was not alone in this realisation, in 2014 the United States Department of Defense funded a program to revitalise analytical wargaming through the conduct of tabletop exercises, seminars, workshops and turn based wargames. Additionally, in 2017, the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence released the Wargaming Handbook to ‘reinvigorate wargaming in defence’ and to ‘restore it as part of their DNA’.
First and foremost this article aims to stimulate discussion about wargaming, generate new ideas and approaches for wargaming Professional Military Education activities and generally contribute to the reinvigoration of wargaming within Army. More specifically this article will provide readily available and low cost solutions for leaders to incorporate into their unit’s Professional Military Education program. These options include participation in the Army Tactics Competition hosted by the Australian Defence Force Wargaming Association and the establishment of unit ‘Fight Clubs’ leveraging commercially available products (both board games and table top miniature-based wargame systems). While some might consider this a non-traditional approach, others may wonder why these events and clubs have not already been established in units and/or brigades. The implementation of these proposed solutions should be seen as a way of complementing the existing training continuum and a means to enhance Army’s tactical acumen. Additionally; it was to develop the critical thinking capacity of Army’s personnel and provide experiential learning regarding decision making in an adversarial environment.
For more information on the Australian Defence Force Wargaming Association, see their website.
The Royal Navy ship RFA Argus is currently in the Caribbean on hurricane watch. Before deployment, the ship readied for potential humanitarian assistance and disaster response by playing AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game.
This past term I taught foreign policy for the first time and used Model Diplomacy by the Council of Foreign Relations.
Model Diplomacy is a fantastic resource for teachers and it is completely free. It has an impressive variety of cases and adapting a simulation to one’s particular needs requires only a few clicks. Thanks to the wide range of background material recommended to the students, the instructor can be confident that they will use relevant documents to prepare for the simulation, which is a great advantage of Model Diplomacy for both students and instructors. My students enjoyed working with videos, official documents, and different reports—instead of academic articles—to write their position memos. Model Diplomacy thus increases students interest and is also a good opportunity for them to familiarise themselves with a range of policy documents.
There are two questions that keep security personnel up at night: How will the next attacker breach our organization? And how well will we perform when it happens?
Usually, you find out the answers only after an incident happens. So how do you answer these questions before any damage is done, and how do you ensure that your incident response team can provide their best possible answer when called upon?
The answer is to gain what Matthew B. Caffrey, coordinator of wargaming at the Air Force Material Command, calls “synthetic experience.” By this he means simulating attacks within the context of a wargame. Running through scenarios that are expected to occur in the future and then going through the processes and practices to deal with them allows you and your staff to gain experience in how to respond to a crisis. When a real incident happens, they’ve already been through it many times before.
The North American Simulation and Gaming Association has also issued a statement on fairness and equality in gaming, including the establishment of a Diversity and Inclusion Scholarship Fund. You can read their full statement here.
America needs better strategists. And if that wasn’t clear enough from the past two decades of U.S. strategy, the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s new vision and guidance statement for professional military education brings this need into focus.
This clarity provides a welcome and necessary change and should drive reform. Unfortunately, proposals to fix professional military education often begin with one’s preferred methods. James Lacey’s recent essay, for example, suggests the new vision “demands large increases in the use of history-based case studies” despite the fact that the Joint Chiefs use the word “history” only twice in their 11-page document. In my reading, the guidance is far less prescriptive.
Perhaps my proposal is merely a reflection of my own biases as well. Even if this argument merely reflects my view as a trained political scientist, however, this perspective has not yet been well articulated. In this essay, I make the case for why social science education should provide the core of a professional military education program aimed at developing strategically-minded officers. I also identify where social science falls short in the unique task of educating joint warfighters and I discuss why and how it should be supplemented and adapted to advance the vision of the Joint Chiefs.
In order to bridge the gap between theoretical and applied social science, Golby suggests (among other things) the use of serious games:
While lectures and seminar discussions may sometimes still be required to achieve certain learning objectives, professional military education should expand the use of experiential learning. Workshops, wargames, simulations, and practical exercises should form the core pedagogical approaches to applying social scientific methods in strategic interactions. Iterative exercises can present novel scenarios or historical cases involving multiple actors with different values and interests. Making military officers apply social scientific methods, practice the strategic process, and adapt strategic plans is the best way to help them develop the skills they need.
The latest issue of the Military Operations Research Society journal Phalanx (June 2020) contains a piece by Barney Rubel on “being ready to capture unexpected insights from wargames.”
This article is about exploiting wargaming, already an invaluable tool, much more fully than we do today. By their nature, wargames can be a sandbox for stimulating new ideas, trying out impulses when there is no cost of failure, and especially for allowing critical insights to emerge. These insights may be overlooked in the course of daily business. You might say they lie latent in many of the thoughts and ideas we consider. Wargames allow those latent ideas, which may be the most important ideas, to emerge into plain view. What’s more, wargames can be designed with that in mind. My purpose is to note and illustrate these points, and to encourage wargame design intended to foster emergence of those latent ideas.
The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) is pleased to announce that Becca Wasser has joined CNAS as a Fellow in the Defense program. Ms. Wasser’s research areas include wargaming, force posture and management, and U.S. defense strategy.
“I am thrilled to welcome Becca to CNAS,” said Susanna V. Blume, Director of the Defense program. “Becca is a top-notch analyst, approaching her work with rigor, creativity, and inclusivity. She is a rising star in the defense community and we are delighted to offer her a platform to build on her already strong track record.”
Prior to joining CNAS, Ms. Wasser was a senior policy analyst at the RAND Corporation. In that role, she designed and led wargames for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and U.S. Army, and led research projects exploring critical national security and defense issues for the DoD, U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, and the U.S. Department of State. She also served as a liaison to U.S. Army HQDA G-3/5/7. Previously, she was a research analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), based jointly in Washington, D.C. and Manama, Bahrain.
In addition to her role at CNAS, Ms. Wasser is an adjunct instructor at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, where she teaches an undergraduate course on wargaming. She holds an M.S. in foreign service, with distinction, from the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and a B.A. in international and global studies and Islamic and Middle Eastern studies from Brandeis University.
Students in Poland could soon play This War Of Mine as part of their education, as developers 11-Bit Studios today announced the grim survival game set in a war-torn city will be on next year’s school reading list. It’ll be recommended for those studying sociology, ethics, philosophy, and history, and will be available free to schools. While schools have used games for years, it’s pretty neat for a game to get so formally recognised – and such a non-edutainment game.
This War Of Mine is about civilians trying to survive in an unnamed besieged city, supply lines cut off by the military outside. You need to scavenge for food, medicine, and other supplies, try to build a cosy-ish home, survive bandits and soldiers alike, and face difficult decisions about how many people you can save and how far you’ll go. It’s a bit grim.
Documents obtained by The Intercept via the Freedom of Information Act reveal that a Pentagon war game, called the 2018 Joint Land, Air and Sea Strategic Special Program, or JLASS, offered a scenario in which members of Generation Z, driven by malaise and discontent, launch a “Zbellion” in America in the mid-2020s.
The Zbellion plot was a small part of JLASS 2018, which also featured scenarios involving Islamist militants in Africa, anti-capitalist extremists, and ISIS successors. The war game was conducted by students and faculty from the U.S. military’s war colleges, the training grounds for prospective generals and admirals. While it is explicitly not a national intelligence estimate, the war game, which covers the future through early 2028, is “intended to reflect a plausible depiction of major trends and influences in the world regions,” according to the more than 200 pages of documents.
According to the scenario, many members of Gen Z — psychologically scarred in their youth by 9/11 and the Great Recession, crushed by college debt, and disenchanted with their employment options — have given up on their hopes for a good life and believe the system is rigged against them. Here’s how the origins of the uprising are described:
Both the September 11 terrorist attacks and the Great Recession greatly influenced the attitudes of this generation in the United states, and resulted in a feeling of unsettlement and insecurity among Gen Z. Although Millennials experienced these events during their coming of age, Gen Z lived through them as part of their childhood, affecting their realism and world view … many found themselves stuck with excessive college debt when they discovered employment options did not meet their expectations. Gen Z are often described as seeking independence and opportunity but are also among the least likely to believe there is such a thing as the “American Dream,” and that the “system is rigged” against them. Frequently seeing themselves as agents for social change, they crave fulfillment and excitement in their job to help “move the world forward.” Despite the technological proficiency they possess, Gen Z actually prefer person-to-person contact as opposed to online interaction. They describe themselves as being involved in their virtual and physical communities, and as having rejected excessive consumerism.
In early 2025, a cadre of these disaffected Zoomers launch a protest movement. Beginning in “parks, rallies, protests, and coffee shops” — first in Seattle; then New York City; Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; Las Vegas; and Austin — a group known as Zbellion begins a “global cyber campaign to expose injustice and corruption and to support causes it deem[s] beneficial.”
During face-to-face recruitment, would-be members of Zbellion are given instructions for going to sites on the dark web that allow them to access sophisticated malware to siphon funds from corporations, financial institutions, and nonprofits that support “the establishment.” The gains are then converted to Bitcoin and distributed to “worthy recipients” including fellow Zbellion members who claim financial need. Zbellion leadership, says the scenario, assures its members that their Robin Hood-esque wealth redistribution is not only untraceable by law enforcement but “ultimately justifiable,” as targets are selected based on “secure polling” of “network delegates.” Although its origins are American, by the latter 2020s, Zbellion activities are also occurring across Europe and cities throughout Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, including Nairobi, Kenya; Hanoi, Vietnam; and Amman, Jordan.
It’s actually a rather minor part of the operations setting for a future scenario, but makes for interesting reading.
Ms Leong rightly points out that there is a lack of a clear glidepath for prospective entrants into the professional wargaming field. The idea of ‘dumb luck’playing an overarching role in the identification, selection, and development of wargamers is, quite frankly, silly, especially for an undertaking of such significance in the national security space. And yet, here we are, after decades of knowing the value of professional wargaming, still just muddling along and happy when we find a good success story like hers.
What’s wrong with us? (OK, let’s be honest, we don’t have that much time.)
What’s wrong with us that we can’t figure out a better process for identifying and developing aspiring professional wargamers, and alter the ‘inverted pyramid‘ to something both less-inverted, and less-pyramid-y? And maybe shake up the color scheme and the gender combination while we’re at it.
Well, frankly, one significant thing wrong with us is, well… us.
At the Atlantic Council blog, the issue of wargaming cybersecurity and statecraft is discussed by five experts: Maria-Kristina Hayden (global head of cyber wargames & awareness, The Bank of New York Mellon), Andreas Haggman (cyber security skills policy lead, UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport), Nina Kollars (nonresident fellow, Cyber Statecraft Initiative; associate professor of the Strategic and Operational Research Department and core faculty member, Cyber and Innovation Policy Institute, Naval War College), Jacquelyn Schneider (Hoover fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University; nonresident fellow, Cyber and Innovation Policy Institute, Naval War College), and John Watts (senior fellow, Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security).
In his July 2019 Commandant’s Planning Guidance, Gen David H. Berger placed special emphasis on increasing the Corps’ wargaming capability, noting that it is “essential to charting our course in an era of strategic fluidity and rapid change.” “Our problem,” he observed, “is not that we are not doing wargaming … but that we have not effectively harnessed this ef- fort into an integrated process of learning.” In response, the Marine Corps Command and Staff College (CSC) has spent the past academic year inte- grating competitive wargaming into all aspects of the curriculum.
COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on U.S. military recruiting. In March 2020, the Army shuttered its recruiting stations across the country, moving all efforts online. Since then, the Army has resumed in-person recruiting, but with added restrictions and in low-risk areas only. The Navy, Air Force, and Marines have also closed many of their recruiting offices. Recent epidemiological models and medical experts suggest that the U.S. will grapple with COVID-19 for the next 12-18 months, until there is a widely-available vaccine. Other experts, however, find that estimate far too optimistic. For the near future, recruiters must severely limit close contact with prospective recruits. All of the services, therefore, have made digital recruiting their main focus. And although the Army was down 5,500 recruiting contracts in April, it appears to have had significant success with its efforts in—wait for it—video games. Indeed, Army leaders claim that games have generated “a ton of leads.” The Navy and Air Force have also embraced digital games as recruiting tools. The Marine Corps, however, has not.
The Corps has been hit hard by the pandemic, due to losing out on its traditional emphasis on “kneecap-to kneecap” recruiting pitches. Recent science and marketing research support the use of games as recruiting tools, and the Marine Corps should embrace them in the short term, looking to the other services’ gaming strategies as useful models. The Marine Corps should take the opportunity of pandemic-disrupted recruiting procedures to rethink and retool its strategic recruiting plan to better adapt to long-term shifts in American society.
Two years ago, much of the professional military education community was startled by the National Defense Strategy’s declaration that its wares had stagnated and that the community had lost focus on lethality and ingenuity. This month, the Joint Chiefs of Staff responded with a new vision and guidance statement for professional military education: Developing Today’s Joint Officers for Tomorrow’s Ways of War. As the document is signed by each service chief, it neatly erases tensions between what the Joint Chiefs as a corporate body believe is necessary to educate officers capable of leading in a joint environment and each individual chief’s responsibility to educate officers within their own services. Most crucially, the new vision signals that the services are “all in” on the need to reform professional military education.
Take a moment to consider the implications of this “buy-in.”
The Joint Chiefs are not only agreeing that professional military education has stagnated but also boldly stating the system is not currently optimized to give them what they need to win future wars. In perusing the document, it becomes clear that the Joint Chiefs are casting almost all the blame for this failure at senior-level professional military education. This valuation is probably an on-target assessment, as — for over seven decades — the U.S. military has won nearly every tactical battle it has fought without translating this battlefield acumen into the strategic results desired by policymakers.