Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Category Archives: simulation and gaming miscellany

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 26 March 2017

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

CNN, for example, reported:

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

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

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

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

Similarly, at Gizmodo:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

You’ll find a RAND video summary here.


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

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



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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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



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

Episode 1: Sacrifice

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

Episode 2: Ransomware

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

Episode 3: Shadow

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

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


Simulation and gaming miscellany, 11 December 2016


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



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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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



Civil Defence is a proposed boardgame about disaster reduction:

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

You’ll find more on the project here.


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


Time Commanders is back on the BBC!

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

You can read about the series and forthcoming episodes here.

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 2 October 2016


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


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

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

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


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

or so says Pat Robertson of the 700 Club.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read the full piece at the link above.

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


Jim Wallman in action at McGill University.


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


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


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



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


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

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


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

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


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

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 24 August 2016


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

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



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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


Simulation and gaming miscellany, 10 August 2016


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


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

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



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



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

Time Commanders

BBC Four

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

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

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

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

Time Commanders is produced for the BBC by Lion Television

To apply

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

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

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

Phone number: 0141 331 6427
Email address:

Time Commanders
Lion Television
14 Royal Crescent
G3 7SL

Closing date: Thursday 1st September

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



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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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



Simulations miscellany, National vanilla ice cream day edition

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


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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

The US Army offers additional details:

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

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

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



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



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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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

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

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



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


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

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

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

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

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


Simulation & gaming miscellany, post-PDW edition


I recently returned from an extremely productive week spent discussing wargaming and analytical methodologies with colleagues from the Defence and Security Analysis Division of the UK Ministry Defence Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at their Portsdown West site. I’ll post a trip report as soon as my comments and the photos are cleared for public release.

In the meantime, 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. Ryan Kuhns contributed material for this latest edition.


jdn1_16In May, the Pentagon released Joint Doctrine Note 1-16 on the topic of Command Red Team:

Command red teams help commanders and staffs think critically and creatively; challenge assumptions; mitigate groupthink; reduce risks by serving as a check against complacency and surprise; and increase opportunities by helping the staff see situations, problems, and potential solutions from alternative perspectives.

The distinguishing feature of a command red team from alternative analysis produced by subject matter experts within the intelligence directorate of a joint staff is its relative independence, which isolates it from the organizational influences that can unintentionally shape intelligence analysis, such as the human tendency for analysts to maintain amicable relations with colleagues and supervisors, and the potential for regular coordination processes to normalize divergent assessments. Commanders can seek the perspectives of trusted advisors regarding any issue of concern. A command red team may also address similar issues, but unlike most commander’s advisory/action groups, it supports the commander’s staff throughout the design, planning, execution, and assessment of operations, and during routine problem-solving initiatives throughout the headquarters. Red teams and tiger teams may be ad hoc and address specific issues. In many cases, the only difference between the two may be the participation of a red team member who can advise the group in the use of structured techniques. Alternate modes employ red teaming as a temporary or additional duty or as an ad hoc operation, with teams assembled as needed to address specific issues.

JDN 1-16 goes on to address Red Team organization, challenges, and activities, as well as their contribution to joint planning and joint intelligence. The appendices include a list of common logical fallacies and tips for effective devil’s advocacy.



Wikistrat-A-Chinese-Spring-cover-464x600Shay Hershkovitz, Chief Strategy Officer and Director of the Analytical Community at Wikistrat, has passed on a recent report on how China might deal with future unrest.

Wikistrat generally uses online expert crowd-sourcing to explore scenarios and identify drivers and pathways. In this case, the simulation methodology was as follows:

50 analysts were handpicked from Wikistrat’s global community of more than 2,000 to participate in this simulation, including renowned China experts Andrew K.P. Leung, Hong Kong’s former chief representative to the United Kingdom; Professor Yawei Liu, Director of the Carter Center’s China Program; and Hugh Stephens, Executive-in-Residence at the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.

The participants were divided into four mirror-image teams (all playing as the Politburo) to test whether they would manage the crisis differently. The game progressed across four rounds, each representing a week of real time. The teams were given the same scenario at the start, but conditions were adjusted in subsequent rounds to re ect the actions of each team.

Every participant could propose an action by submitting a “move” containing a policy decision (e.g., suppress online discussion of the protests), a desired end-state and a rationale. The rest of the team expressed their approval by “liking” the proposal (or disapproval by taking no action). Whichever proposal received the most likes in a given round was interpreted by Wikistrat as the team’s consensus and informed the next round’s update.

119 moves were proposed by the teams in total. There was often a clear preference for one or two moves per round in each team. In only a few cases did Wikistrat need to consolidate various moves that received an equal number of likes.

A fifth group of experts was engaged as a U.S. observer team to offer insights into how the United States might interpret and respond to China’s actions.

In the end, the four China teams proceeded more or less along the same pathways, seeking to quell the protests by cracking down on ringleaders while offering concessions and conjuring up foreign plots in order to demotivate the masses.

You’ll find a description of each round of the simulation and key take-aways in the full report (link above).



A modified version of the digital game Civilization V is being developed for use in high school classrooms. According to The Verge:

 Publisher Take-Two Interactive announced that a modified version of the historical strategy game Civilization V is in the works, and is expected to be available for high school classes in North America starting next fall. Called CivilizationEDU, the company says that the education-focused version of the game will “provide students with the opportunity to think critically and create historical events, consider and evaluate the geographical ramifications of their economic and technological decisions, and to engage in systems thinking and experiment with the causal / correlative relationships between military, technology, political, and socioeconomic development.”

While I enjoy Civ V and other 4X (“eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate”) games, I’m a little doubtful that they are the best way of teaching about world history since they tend to be designed to reflect player preferences, expectations, and preconceptions rather than portray accurate historical dynamics.


…and on that subject, it’s about time we offered a shout-out to Play the Past, a website “dedicated to thoughtfully exploring and discussing the intersection of cultural heritage (very broadly defined) and games/meaningful play (equally broadly defined).”



At the Active Learning in Political Science blog they discuss simulating Brexit:

In the spirit of not wasting a good crisis, the UK’s decision to leave the European Union offers a great way into understanding a number of political dynamics.

Of course, we need to tread a bit carefully here, for a number of reasons. Firstly, this is a highly fluid situation, so whatever one might plan for the autumn might be completely overtaken by events. Secondly, some of the things that have happened over the past week are so extreme and atypical that while you might reproduce them in a simulation setting, you are almost certainly never going to see them happen again. Thirdly, there’s an awful lot going on, so you need to pick your targets clearly.

With all those caveats in mind, some options still present themselves….


460003main_merraflood93.jpgOn 20-21 October 2016, the Digital Culture Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London will be hosting a conference on Simulation and Environments: A Critical Dialogue Between Systems Of Perception And Ecocritical Aesthetics.

Theme #1: Aesthetics and Environmental Simulations

When addressing issues of climate and climate crisis, simulation models and techniques become potent tools for understanding, prediction, and prevention. Yet the epistemological merit of these tools is rarely accompanied with a critical assessment of their aesthetic properties.

Put another way, the history of nature and the environment is, particularly at its interstices with the human and the natural sciences, heavily laden with cultural and even theological ideas about how a nature should look, should make one feel, should be. What guarantee do we have that these ideological preconceptions are not making their way into our simulations and models? If they are being included, how are they influencing our data? Or conversely, should we be including the cultural and affective effects of nature so often associated with the experience of landscape into our computational models precisely because of the way they fold the human into the physical environment?

The aim of this conference stream will be to parse the aesthetic conditions of simulation technologies, assumptions, and ideologies when dealing with the ecosystem. What role can visual or other aesthetics play in the computing of climates and natural phenomena? How does the changing role of the human as geological agent reframe the digital image as an epistemological form?

Proposed essays may touch on one of the following subjects, but are not restricted to including these:

  • Geospatial technologies, imaging, & observational data
  • Earth imaging & observation
  • Computational climate models
  • Military vision and targeting technologies
  • GIS technologies
  • Remote sensing
  • New media art


Theme #2: Simulation and Systems of Perception

Conceptions of simulation attempt to recreate the environment through computational logics of representation that only ever remain asymptotic to the physical world. Rather than asking whether or not simulation can ever provide homeomorphic images of the physical how can simulation instead be used performatively to rethink ways of perceiving, knowing and doing?

This might entail a theorisation of vision – or visioning – in the broader sense of not just perceiving with sight, but also insight, as well as the projection of images of elsewheres and otherwises, futures and fantasies. How would such a repositioning affect the potential instrumentalisation of simulation for political imaginaries and art practices?

The aim of this conference stream will be to invite discussion on the ontological and epistemological implications of simulated modes of perception. How can perception be understood in relation to computational aesthetics and logics?

Proposed essays may touch on one of the following subjects, but are not restricted to including these:

  • Computational modelling systems
  • Mathematics and culture
  • Planning technologies and the imaginary
  • Artificial visioning systems
  • Geopositioning and robotics
  • Cognitive simulations

Those interested in participating should  submit paper abstracts of 500 words to by 1 August 2016. (Please designate theme of interest).

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 14 June 2016


PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious gaming that may be of interest to our readers.


balticstates.jpgIn War on the Rocks, Karl Mueller and his colleagues at RAND (David Shlapak, Michael Johnson, David Ochmanek ) offer a spirited defence of their recent wargames that examined the vulnerability of the Baltic republics to a Russian attack:

Michael Kofman’s recent War on the Rocks essay spent much of its length critiquing RAND’s February report on the requirements for establishing a more robust conventional deterrent posture along NATO’s eastern flank. This report describes a series of wargames that we and a team of our RAND colleagues designed and ran in 2014 and 2015 to examine the potential results of a Russian invasion of the Baltic states. In aggregate, these games suggest that the permanent presence of a multi-brigade NATO armored force would likely be sufficient and might well be necessary to present Moscow with the prospect that such an attack would not result in a quick and inexpensive victory. Kofman asserts that our analysis represents “conventional wisdom,” but his piece repeats the most common arguments we’ve encountered since we began presenting this work to Pentagon audiences two years ago, reflecting what had been the standard thinking within the United States defense enterprise prior to our analysis.

In their most general form, these arguments are three in number:

  • While Russia has been willing to use force against countries like Georgia and Ukraine, there is no reason to thinkit would attack members of NATO.
  • Strengthening NATO’s defense along its eastern frontier could ultimately lead to the very conflict it seeks to prevent.
  • The more challenging Russian military threat to the Baltic republics would be limited “salami-slicing” incursionsto which NATO would have political difficulty responding.

There are stronger and weaker formulations of these propositions, but varieties of each are put forward by Kofman. Each contains kernels of truth, but all are ultimately unconvincing. First, while an invasion of the Baltic states appears unlikely, its consequences would be so dangerous that not taking steps to deter it more robustly would be imprudent. Second, while Moscow would dislike a stronger NATO military posture in northeastern Europe and would probably increase its own military capabilities in response, the NATO forces in question would clearly not pose a significant threat to Russian security. Finally, the presence of NATO forces capable of deterring an invasion would also contribute to deterring subconventional attacks or limited land grabs by preventing Russia from backstopping these moves with intervention by substantial conventional forces as it did in eastern Ukraine.


Well, it is good to know that potential readers at the Defence Academy are protected from the radicalizing effects of PAXsims. Or perhaps they just think we’re game-porn.


In either case, we’re blocked!



Connections Oz will be  held in Melbourne on 5-6 December 2016. For more details they become available, check their website here.

I can’t go this year, sadly—but had a great time participating in last year’s event.



As usual, there’s a lot of interesting stuff at the Defense Linguistics blog.



Ezra Sidran has launched a development blog for his proposed computer wargame, General Staff. In it he discusses the game’s design approach, AI challenges, and other issues of interest.

You’ll also find a recent interview with him here at GrogHeads.


An article by A. Ziya Aktaş and Emre R Orçun on “A real-time strategy game, “GALLIPOLI WARS,” as a centennial tribute to the Gallipoli Campaign (1915–2015)” is now available (online first) at The Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation: Applications, Methodology, Technology.


An article at DVIDS discusses the participation of members of the US Naval Post Graduate School in “track two” dialogue of South and East Asian security and foreign policy issues—including the use of crisis simulations:

By conducting crisis-simulation games through Khan’s South Asian Stability Workshops, he has found that it is possible to take a much deeper look into how participating nations conduct diplomacy, implement policy, deploy their militaries and make economic decisions.

“The simulation exercise was designed to reinforce our theoretical understanding of India-Pakistani strategic stability with conceptual clarity. Although track II dialogues and academic conferences have been useful for developing a robust theoretical understanding of strategic stability, the South Asian Stability Workshop provides a laboratory in which theoretical hypothesis can be explored and stress-tested,” explained Khan.

But Khan left the sterile confines of the laboratory long ago. He is deliberately pushing the envelope with his Pakistani and Indian participants in an effort to observe how, or if, participants are able to de-escalate potential crises.

“We try to simulate the interplay of conventional, unconventional and nuclear warfare,” said Khan. “We create a perfect-storm situation.”

Khan notes that into that “storm” each country brings its own preconceived notions and its own diplomatic and strategic objectives.

“We place them into a narrative of their own making, giving them the option to identify the crisis and observe how they react to it over a 72-hour period,” said Khan. “It’s a very serious game. The primary focus of my research is determining how nations can de-escalate crises using these tools.”


A video report on the US naval War College’s recent battle of Jutland centenary wargame can be found on the NWC Facebook page.


Having been reported in North America, France, and Russia, our ISIS Crisis game has now shown up in the Latin American media too.

Next stop, Dabiq!



Suffragetto is a suffragettes vs. police board game published in 1908/09, and an interesting example of both a (then) topical game and the use of a game for the purposes of political advocacy and awareness

 The game:

…[was] created by the militant British Women’s Social and Political Union (WPSU). The game is a contest of occupation between two opposing factions—the Suffragettes and the police—each aiming to occupy their opponent’s base while defending their own political home.

You can find out more here, here, and here (the latter including materials to make your own copy at home).


Simulation and gaming miscellany, 29 May 2016


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. Ryan Kuhns provided material for this latest edition.



The Spanish Civil War, 1936-39 (GMT Games, 2010).

The Catalan Journal of Communication and Cultural Studies 8, 1 (April 2016) contains an article by Juan Luis Gonzalo Iglesia (Universitat Rovira i Virgili) “Simulating history in contemporary board games: The case of the Spanish Civil War.”

This article examines the structure of simulation of two recently published analogic war games on the Spanish Civil War in order to analyse the ways in which they represent the history of the Spanish conflict. The study places the board games as an object of analysis within the field of Game Studies and then undertakes a search of which elements used in the study of video games can be used to approach the analysis of historical board games. The analysis of the ludic structure of these games shows a Civil War initially focused on the chaos on the Republican side, followed by the progression towards the professionalization and militarization of the conflict as the only path to victory. The study shows that the elements of the ludic macrostructure become the means used by the game to delimit the simulation of history, before going on to reflect on the theoretical and cultural implications of this condition.

More specifically, we will analyse two war games created by Spanish designers that have been recently published by two American companies that specialize in war games and games of historic simulation. The games are The Spanish Civil War 1936–1939 (TSCW) designed by Javier Romero and published by GMT Games in 2010 (Romero 2010) and Crusade and Revolution: The Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939 (C&R), designed by David Gómez Relloso and published by Compass Games in 2013 (Gómez Relloso 2013): this product is based on World War I game Paths of Glory, published in 1999.


Crusade and Revolution: The Spanish Civil War, 1936-39 (Compass Games, 2013).

As to the author’s conclusions, I will quote these at lengths for readers who are unable to access the (paywalled) article:

This study belongs to the body of literature that analyses the construction of the narrative contained within games, in particular within board games. We have shown that the theory and methodology of Games Studies can also be used to analyse board games. We have used the analysis of analogue games as a ludofictional world made up of the elements of ludic simulation. The study shows that two contemporary board games have a ludofictional world with very strict rules, which aim to justify a high level of historical represen- tation and decrease the players’ capacity for significant decision-making that would modify the limits of the possible world.

In summary, even though both sides can win the game and therefore modify history in case of a Republican victory, the structure of the game delim- its these possibilities. Indeed, it is easier in these games to change the final outcome of the war (what happened) than it is to find ways to achieve that result (how it happened). The main narrative shows a Republic with severe problems of internal division and lack of coordination that pushes the player towards the reorganization of the Popular Army as the only possible way of defeating the enemy. And while the National side takes the initiative, it must initially focus on political objectives over and above the military goals, and must eventually also restructure its forces in order to achieve victory. In the game, this is illustrated by the categorical rules that restrict the players’ actions (particularly the Republican players), and the lifting of these rules in the more advanced phases of the war.

We should emphasize that this assessment is not meant as a criticism, since the explicit intention of the designers of these two games was precisely to highlight these issues. However, it brings into question the extent to which the game experience generates a sense of freedom in the players. On the other hand, and to break through the rigidity of the simulation, both games offer an alternative set of rules (What if?) that should be analysed in depth to see which other simulation paths they offer. Also, some aspects of these games would require further study – for instance, how the design of the different mechanics on which they are based (in particular the Card Driven of C&R) influence their gameplay.

We could also question the intentionality of these specific constructions of the Spanish Civil War. The rule booklets and the game books contain some clues about the vision of the authors, but this aspect could be further inves- tigated by means of direct interviews with the designers: we could ask, for instance, to what extent the rules and mechanics intend to simulate an event or whether they offer balanced mechanics that give options to both sides. Another topic of study would be the direct game experience of the players.

Which narrative of the Civil War emerges from the experience of dealing with the games’ rules and from overcoming the challenges that these rules pose? It is interesting to note that the whole structure of rules, mechanics and objec- tives can be dismantled by skilful players able to foresee their options, thus deconstructing the narrative built by the game contents, ultimately to gener- ate a different history. Indeed, this is what most players aim for. The vision of the players and their different approaches to the game refer to a particular aspect of the world of games that should in reality be a field of study in its own right.

Finally, we have analysed board games to claim their place as artefacts that warrant study. Further studies should address the differences between analogue and digital simulation of the Spanish Civil War by comparing our games with video games currently found in the marketplace. It would also be necessary to undertake a deeper study of the specific methodologies that allow the study of analogue games.

Beyond the specific aspects of games as cultural artefacts, the implications of games on the recovery of memory need to be taken into account. There are many challenging questions on the specific possibilities that games offer to the workings of memory. Besides the predetermination of some (though not many) narratives about History in the game design, it is undeniable that games promote debate about the interpretation of the past. Predetermination contrasts the equidistance claimed by the ludic simulation – within a genre of games, which define themselves as serious and based on documentation – which constitutes at the same time both a problem and an opportunity to break with the ‘official history’ and create new ways of approaching trauma. There is a whole area of analysis on how games, digital or analogue, can serve as a reflexive tool to dispute the rigidity of institutional history and to recover partial, alternative and personal memories. This is especially relevant in national contexts, as in the case of Spain, where there is a strong social claim to uncover long-standing historical offences.

h/t Javier Romero



At GovTechWorks, Michael Peck explores the challenges of wargaming cyberwarfare:

Faced with a variety of new threats, from hypersonic ship-killing missiles to anti-satellite weapons and terrorist attacks, top Pentagon leaders are pushing for more analytical wargaming to devise strategies to counter such threats.

But in an era where information can be an instrument of war, the question of how to effectively wargame cyber attacks is a critical issue for military planners.

Modeling cyberwarfare resembles the philosophical question of whether a tree actually fell in a forest if no one heard it fall. How does a wargame designer realistically depict a stealth weapon like a computer virus, whose very effectiveness depends on the victim not knowing that the virus exists or how it works?

“We have been trying to integrate stuff like that [cyberwarfare] into operational games, but the weapons themselves are so highly classified and tightly held that we don’t really know what capabilities exist,” says Peter Perla, a defense wargaming expert and senior research scientist with the Center for Naval Analyses.

Perla calls cyber the “holy grail” of wargaming. “We have some general ideas of what might exist but we tend not to be able to cross those barriers. So we kind of give people generic capabilities and ask them to find something that they’d like to have. Then we assess whether it is a one-shot deal, or it might be persistent for a while,” he said. “But the parameters are very difficult to get a handle on because we have no experience with them.”

John Curry is quoted as highlighting two key issues:

John Curry, author of “Dark Guest: Training Games For Cyber Warfare,” sees two issues with simulating cyberwarfare. The first is that there is little real-world experience of cyberwarfare on which to base a game. While cyberattacks do occur, we have not yet seen the kind of intensive cyber warfare that might take place between sophisticated cyber powers at war. “Google, Microsoft, HP and our universities have not been mobilized in an all-out effort to hit the other side,” Curry says. “Despite protestations that we have had cyber war, we have only had skirmishes on the fringe of conflicts.”

The second is the incredibly rapid fluctuations endemic to cyberwarfare. “One of the issues of cyber weapons is they are largely untested and can be rendered ineffective by the next software patch,” Curry says. “You build a tool, the other side builds a patch and then your tool has to be re-engineered.”

Peck concludes with some useful observations:

So how should cyberwarfare be simulated in defense wargames? Experts say there are two ways to approach this. One is to simulate cyberweapons in detail, such as distinguishing between different types of viruses and their effects. This would help teach players something about how these weapons work and how they could be employed in conflict.

But Perla and others suggest the alternative solution is better: It’s a “black box” approach in which players only see the basic effects of cyberwarfare and don’t get caught up in the details about how something is done. It’s the same approach wargames use for electronic warfare, where players are simply told that jamming has disrupted their communications.

“I would focus on potential effects rather than specific weapons,” Perla says. “For example, one type of attack might reduce command and control capacity, making it difficult to issue or change orders. This could be characterized on a ‘Cyber Card’ the player has available. When played, the game controllers would implement the effects as they see fit. Possibly, the effect is either bigger or smaller than expected. Possibly, the opponent is aware of the attack and able to negate it, or even turn it against the original user,” he said.

Perla also notes that depicting cyber depends on the level of warfare being simulated. “Cyber at the strategic level is likely to use different tools against different targets than cyber at the tactical level,” he said. “Big surprise. For example, at the tactical level, one side may try to tap into the cyber networks of their opponent after capturing a headquarters. But the opponent may run a deception op, feeding false info through the captured node.”

Simulating cyberwarfare also depends on the audience. If the goal is to create a training simulation for cyberwarfare operators, then it makes sense to delve into the nitty-gritty of specific forms of attack and defense, or the characteristics and vulnerabilities of various types of software or computer networks. But if the audience is a slate of senior generals and admirals wargaming a North Korean invasion of South Korea, then there is no reason for the game to simulate the differences between a malware attack and a denial-of-service cyberattack.

“The operational reality is that cyber is integrated with the other domains of warfare,” Curry says. “Cyber is just a means and is rarely the end.”


At e-International Relations, Daniela Irrera (University of Catania) discusses a classroom NGO simulation she has developed:

I involved my students of Global Civil Society in something I called ‘NGO simulation’. I have split them into smaller groups and asked to ‘build’ an NGO profile (in terms of identity, geographical location, objectives and tools). Then, I presented to all groups a call for projects to be submitted to international donors (the European Commission, or various UN agencies). They had basically to prepare a project (including the rationale, the selected partners and the budget), in order to fulfil a given request (usually something to be built or developed in a troubled country, affected by war, natural disaster, economic and social deprivation, etc.).  I organised two different sessions, for allowing students to get familiar with their group and plan the activities. A collective public session was held based on groups leaders, presenting their projects and trying to get funds from donors. Finally, a debriefing assembly gave to students the chance to express their appreciation or concern and to me the possibility of assessing the activity within the course.



Early registration is now open for the North American Simulation and Gaming Association annual conference, which will be held this year on 26-29 October in Bloomington, IN.


At Punk Rock Operations Research, Laura Albert McLay quotes David Banks (Duke) as recently proposing “three levels for modeling that applies to research in statistics, operations research, and optimization” which I thought were quite useful:

  • LEVEL 1: You solve the problem.
  • LEVEL 2: You solve the problem in a cost-effective manner (e.g., using heuristics to get a quick solution that is “good enough”)
  • LEVEL 3: You solve the problem in a cost-effective manner that a decision-maker will implement

There’s some wisdom here for serious game designers and for wargame outputs/analysis too.


The folks at Active Learning in Political Science have put together a podcast discussing their impressions of the Political Studies Association-sponsored Workshop on New Pedagogies at the University of Sussex. You’ll find a link to it here.



None of these people is Brian Train.

As Iraqi troops and militias  (backed by Iran and the US) fight to recapture the city of Fallujah from the so-called “Islamic State,” Brian Train offers a chance to simulate the battle. Specifically he has created a variant scenario for Joe Miranda’s game Fallujah 2004: City Fighting in Iraq, which appeared in Modern War magazine #23. You’ll find it at Ludic Futurism.



Dstl Portsdown West.

I’ll be in the UK at the end of June, to deliver a week of wargaming lectures and workshops at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratories (Dstl) Portsdown West. If you’re a member of the UK defence, security, or foreign policy establishment and would be interested in attending one or more of the sessions, drop me a line and I’ll put you in touch with my Dstl point-of-contact.


Simulation and gaming miscellany, 16 May 2016.


Today is, of course, National Sea Monkey Day—yes it really is. In honour of that most important occasion, we at PAXsims have collected together a number of items that, while having nothing at all to do with Sea Monkeys™, do concern conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) games.

Ryan Kuhns and James Sterrett contributed material for this latest edition.



A few months back we posted an item regarding RAND’s wargame-based analysis of a possible Russian invasion of the Baltic republics. Those games, designed and conducted by David Shlapak and Michael  Johnson, found that NATO was unable to defend its Baltic members, and that doing so would require investment in at least additional seven brigades that were either forward deployed or could be deployed to the area on short notice.

At War on the Rocks, Michael Kofman disagrees:

In RAND’s wargames, Russia rolled through the Baltics even with NATO airpower to contend with, but so what? The structure of such scenarios can lead to radically different conclusions about what the U.S. should do in response. RAND’s wargame is fraught with problems, starting with its assumptions and its reading of Russian strategy and military. The results have been hyped up like so much hot air filling a balloon.

First, he argues that the game scenario of a hasty Russian attack on the Baltics was unrealistic, since any direct attack on NATO would involve far great mobilization of effort and risk.

If Russia was planning a full-scale invasion of the Baltic states, it would also have to plan to take on all of NATO and defend against a counter-attack. Great powers typically don’t attack superpowers with cobbled-together forces and hope for the best. Moscow would likely bring to bear a force several times larger than that assumed in the wargame and maintain the logistics to deploy additional units from other military districts. Opinions will vary among Russian military experts about the size of force Russia could muster in a hurry, but one estimate I suspect you will not hear is 27 battalions thrown together for what could be World War III. Think much bigger and not within an arbitrary 10-day time limit.  It is unclear where the 10-day invasion rule came from. It was also referenced in a recent Atlantic Council report.  Has NATO coordinated this preferred time table with the Russians?

Second, he is critical of what he sees as their attachment to a 1980s conception of Air-Land Battle, and their decision to focus solely on operations in the Baltic republics and not the broader Baltic Sea and surrounding countries.

If we are to have this surreal Dr. Strangelove discussion, then let’s play out a high-end fight between Russia and NATO. Imagine it is the future: NATO has done as told and forward-stationed several American brigades in the Baltics.  Russia also repositions forces in the Western Military District in response, and realizes previously announced plans for new unit formations. One day, Russia decides to roll the dice on the fate of humanity and challenge NATO through a conventional invasion. Except the Russian General Staff looks at the map and realizes that there’s no need to seize Baltic cities since they can simply walk through Belarus and link up with Kaliningrad, thereby severing NATO’s “Army of Deterrence” in the Baltics from the rest of its forces in Poland. Russia’s Baltic Fleet is not much of a naval force, but it can blockade Baltic ports for a while, mine them, and effect sea denial. Of course, the other problem is that all of U.S. forces will be within the arcs of Russia’s long-range air defense, operating at the mercy of Russian cruise missiles, artillery, and an initial air attack.

One thing AirLand Battle didn’t have to deal with is S-400 air defense systems with 250 kilometer ranges, 350 kilometer-range Iskander-M tactical missiles, or 300 kilometer-range Bastion-P coastal missile defenses. Of course, everything can be overcome in time, except that there’s no obvious way to reinforce U.S. units in the Baltics or to keep their supplies and fuel from being destroyed in the opening hours of the fight. This entire scenario starts within Russian kill zones and electronic warfare zones. Russian units can come from Belarus, Kaliningrad, Russia itself, or by sea in preparation for an assault. The ability of Moscow to compel Minsk’s cooperation plays a key role, because the railroads run right through Belarus and to the Suwalki Gap or by Vilnius. Author and retired Army Colonel Douglas MacGregor’s brief to the Senate Armed Services Committee was no less alarmist than RAND’s, but he recognized the more important problem of Russian forces attacking from Belarus to Kaliningrad.

Why would Russia make a dash for Baltic capitals, as in RAND’s wargame, when the battle is decided by whether or not NATO can successfully reinforce from Poland? Instead of fighting NATO forces in the Baltics, the best way forward is to turn that deterrent into a military hostage. What if, in the time it takes NATO to generate forces sufficient to break through a Russian defensive position across Kaliningrad, the alliance collapses politically, especially given the concern over losing its units behind enemy lines in the Baltics?

Lurking behind all this is the issue of nuclear deterrence, or even nuclear weapons use.

When we understand the nuclear ramifications of this entire discussion, it becomes clear how mad much of the argumentation over conventional deterrence in the Baltics truly is. There is not even a meager attempt to explain how deterrence has failed or why Russia would attack NATO, despite the fact that through most of the Cold War and into the present, deterrence has rested more on the threat of punishment. The U.S.-Russia relationship always enjoyed deterrence by punishment aplenty (no offense to AirLand warriors), through nuclear and subsequently conventional retaliation. Despite the current tensions and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there’s little to indicate that this equilibrium has been lost.

The questions raised about the broader context of such a war are important ones—indeed, we briefly mentioned some of them in our discussion of a Baltic crisis game conducted by the  Center for a New American Security.

Kofman is critical of RAND’s use of a hex-based wargame, and their consequent focus on assets in the immediate area:

One of the challenges with wargaming and the hex-square approach (a tactical grid dividing the map terrain into hexagonal squares) is that it can lend you to structure advice not in service of a real-world problem, but in the service of fixing the wargame. Looking at the board, no doubt Russia’s hex squares are filled with powerful red unit pieces and NATO’s are disappointingly empty. The logical conclusion is to fill NATO’s side with blue pieces — problem solved.

I don’t think the problem here is necessarily hex maps. Indeed, part of Kofman’s argument (although he doesn’t state this) is, in effect, that the map was too small and the wrong assets were considered. However, he does point to an issue in all wargame design, whether hex-based or using any other mechanic: a design can skew outcomes, and hence conclusions.

The debate over Russia, NATO, and Baltic security continues.



In The National Interest, Michael Peck discusses “Why the Pentagon Loves War Games Again.”

It’s a great time to be a Pentagon game nerd.

Long dismissed as the geekier side of the military, war gaming is suddenly in demand, after the Department of Defense realized that if it wants to devise a strategy to beat China and Russia, it needs to play games.

Last year, Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work issued a startling directive demanding the military conduct more wargaming. Work’s eye is on an important prize: a new “offset strategy” for the twenty-first century. The First Offset Strategy, in the 1950s, relied on nuclear weapons to stop massive Soviet ground forces, while the second strategy of the 1970s emphasized smart weapons to stop the Red Army. Now the focus is on a Third Offset Strategy to discover technologies and tactics to neutralize an imposing spectrum of new threats, such as ship-killing hypersonic missiles, cyberwarfare and terrorism (for my deeper analysis of the Pentagon directive, go here).

War games and the military go back a long way. Chess was invented in India almost two thousand years ago as a game of military strategy, and the Germans used Kriegsspiel to train their elite General Staff officers. More relevant to the current U.S. strategic dilemma is how the U.S. Naval War College used wargames in the 1930s—including model ships maneuvered on the floor—to develop the war plans that eventually defeated Japan in 1945.

Yet as Work said in his directive, “I am concerned that the Department’s ability to test concepts, capabilities, and plans using simulation and other techniques—otherwise known as wargaming—has atrophied.” To fix the problem, the Department of Defense has requested $55 million for war gaming in fiscal year 2017, which is still a drop in the bucket compared to the nearly $600 billion the Pentagon spends now.

 Peck worries whether the money will be well-spent:

Whether that money will be spent wisely remains to be seen. Commercial war games, designed and played by hobbyists (in the interests of full disclosure, I’m one of them), are a cheaper and quicker alternative to the Pentagon’s habit of awarding contracts to the big defense firms. Some commercial war game designers, for example, have produced remarkably sophisticated simulations of counterinsurgency conflicts such as Vietnam. Networking technologies should make it easier to bring together diverse and geographically distant decisionmakers and experts for gaming.

But what ultimately counts is the human dimension of war gaming. What games and war have in common—and what makes war gaming so valuable—is that they are a competition of wits in which the participants use every last bit of cunning to beat their opponent. Mathematical models may be fine for estimating how many F-35s or aircraft carriers America needs. However, a conflict in the South China Sea or eastern Europe will be instigated by humans and waged by humans, and therefore should be gamed by humans too.

He’s absolutely right, of course, about the centrality of human factors as both an element of and a reason for wargaming. His fear of defence contractors hijacking the initiative with big-budget digital wargames that deliver little is one that others have expressed, notably Peter Perla in an article last year at Wargaming Connection. Peter adds to this the equally great risk of things being relabelled “wargames” so as to seem consistent with current senior-level interest, or low-quality games being conducted just to show compliance with the new directives.

But I fear some hidden “others,” most of which are lurking in one word: “systematize.” There are far too many organizations new to or unfamiliar with wargaming that see an opportunity in claiming to have a new and improved “system” for doing wargaming. Most of these sudden converts are either purveyors or patrons of big (and expensive) computer simulations at one extreme, or the practitioners and participants of bogsattery at the other.

We have already seen the signs of bureaucratic antibodies rising to fight against new application of real wargaming as seminars, workshops, and facilitated discussions are suddenly re-characterized as wargames. And what I like to call CSWPs—pronounced caz-whips, for computer simulations without players—are touted as precisely the sort of “systematized” and high-tech solutions needed.

I would add two other caveats.

First, I’m not sure that commercial/hobby wargames necessarily hold the silver bullet of a low-cost alternative. Certainly there are many, many excellent designs available, and absolutely there is a great deal to be learned in terms of design approaches and mechanics. However hobby games are often a poor fit for the analytical purposes and practical constraints of national security gaming, and I’ve attended too many wargame discussions which seem to have difficulty breaking away from the traditions of hobby games that participants grew up with or have stockpiled in their basements.

Second, the danger in positioning quantitative OR analysis and qualitative, human factor wargaming as opposites is that it obscures the many potential synergies between the two. After all, we don’t want a (Captain America) wargamers vs (Tony Stark) operations researchers civil war, do we?



The US Naval War College recently wargamed the battle of Jutland, using modified rules from the 1930s. According to the NWC press release:

This reenactment pitted Howe, acting as commodore of the German fleet, against Samuel Cox, director Naval History and Heritage Command, who led the British forces.

The reenactment used wargame techniques from that time to include staging the game on a large floor space and physically maneuvering game pieces representing ships. All movement calculations were completed using period technology.

Recreating the Jutland wargame required some digging and good luck to find out how the original game was played by students almost a century ago.

While looking for information on the original wargame, NWC archivist Dara Baker happened on a historic find in the archives.

“The reenactment all started with the idea of putting together an exhibition to acknowledge it has been 100 years since the Battle of Jutland,” said Baker. “To do that, my staff and I started looking through all of the material we have in our collection on the battle. When we were looking, I found this box titled, “War Game Outfit,” and I was like, ‘Huh, I wonder what that is.’ I pulled the box out and opened it up and there were all these pieces, it was just fantastic.”

Baker had discovered that the archives’ collection contained much of the original game from almost a century ago.

“We unpacked the whole thing and realized we had all the [game] pieces created in the 1930s for the Jutland game,” Baker added. “By knowing what the pieces looked like, it allowed us to recreate those and actually put on this event.”

The game pieces used for the reenactment were recreated for the event and modeled after the older pieces from the archives.

The archives staff also uncovered the instructions used for the original game. The instructions were used to develop the reenactment instructions.

A video of the wargame will be posted to the NWC Facebook page on May 31, the centenary of the actual naval confrontation during WWI. In the meantime, you can watch this excellent documentary video from the Jutland 1916 website explaining the battle:


The Wall Street Journal features an interesting piece on the value of extremely difficult (video)games:

Today’s most challenging games are dubbed “masocore,” a combination of “masochist” and “hard-core.” Masocore games are nearly devoid of instructions, kill new players within seconds, and require repeated trial and error to succeed.

But it’s not all pointless vexation. These games reinforce a character-building truism: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” And they also inculcate some practical virtues. All of that losing, it turns out, teaches you how to win, and not just in videogames.

You can read the full article here.



Many wargames, especially commercial/hobby wargames, grant players a gods-eye view of the battlefield, allow them to be everywhere, and provide them with absolute control over the behaviour of their forces. In a thoughtful article at GrogHeads earlier this month, Derek Croxton addresses this issue of “Perspective in Wargames: Who Exactly Are You?

This article investigates the problems of trying to put players in historical roles: first of identifying proper historical figures to simulate, and second of creating the possibilities and limitations that those figures historically faced. I contend that a game is usually more fun and more realistic where a designer has given thought to these issues.

The problem of perspective is especially acute at the tactical level. The smoke, noise, and confusion of battlefields are legendary; friction and fog of war are as important as planning, and psychology sometimes dominates doctrine in deciding the victor. These sorts of problems are very difficult to simulate. ASL,probably the greatest tactical system ever, does not even make much of an attempt. The concept of morale and broken units was and remains a brilliant innovation, but it only covers a small part of the problems experienced by a leader. Though it purports to deal with “the ultimate stress situation” in which decisions “could be warped by the unpredictable dictates of fate,” in fact players have absolute vision of the battlefield and total control of any squads not actually shot at, and broken, by the enemy. I once debated with a friend for an hour on the lack of reluctant sergeants, botched communications, and inaccurate maps that one might actually have to deal with. His initial reaction was disbelief: of course there are no reluctant sergeants, you are the sergeant. This is what the name of the game would lead you to believe – you are, after all, playing Squad Leader – but in fact you are more like a company leader (if you were a squad leader, they should give you only one squad)….


9780262033992Also at GrogHeads, Brant Guillory reviews Pat Harrigan and Matthew Kirschenbaum, eds., Zones of Control: Perspectives on Wargaming (The MIT Press, 2016).

 The beauty of Zones of Control is that there’s so much in here that the likelihood is that the reader is going to find more to his or her liking than not.  Bond discussing the creation of Persian Incursion is a fascinating look the process of building one of the odder game systems to emerge in recent wargaming.  Racier talking about Paths of Glory is of comparable quality and insight.  Zones of Control gives equal time to aesthetic creators (Mahaffey), professional practitioners (Bartels), academics (MacCallum-Stewart), legends (Costikyan), and journalists-turned-creators (Goodfellow).  Even those chapters whose contents you don’t agree with (like my critique of Schulzke’s chapter above) serve as jumping-off points for very serious conversations about wargaming as a whole.

“Do you need to buy this book?” is the ultimate question.  Unless you’re a single-track wargamer, who eats, sleeps, breathes, and lives & dies with one type of game – tabletop hex & counter, or digital FPS – there’s going to be more than enough reading to keep your interest.  Moreover, if you work in wargaming at all, whether as a hobby designer, or a defense contractor, or an educator using wargames in the classroom, this is a must-buy.  And if you can manage to bill it to an expense account, buy two!

You’ll find the review here, the book here, and its table of contents here.


The latest in EA’s Battlefield series of multiplayer first-person shooter videogames, Battlefield 1, will be set in World War I—and that has sparked some interesting commentary about the appropriateness of that setting for the gaming genre.As Jake Muncy notes at Wired:

PEOPLE TEND TO grow reverential when talking about the First World War. Many see it as the epitome of wanton cruelty, a brutal and pointless stalemate that killed some 16 million people and gave rise to the worst excesses of modern warfare. This war to end all wars, more than almost any other modern conflict, is difficult to separate from the horrors it inflicted.

That’s a big reason why you don’t see World War I as a setting for a mainstream first-person shooter. But Electronic Arts wants to give it a try with Battlefield 1. This might sound like an exciting new frontier for the genre, but there’s a reason WW1 has long been no-man’s land for developers: It was a quagmire of death and disease that turned strategy into slaughter, with no handy narrative of heroism to layer gameplay atop.

Certainly WW I was generally characterized on the Western Front by the dehumanizing slog of trench warfare, where individual actions and heroism were dwarfed by mass industrial slaughter. However, it is noteworthy that in the trailer above much of the gameplay seems to focus on aspects and theatres of the war where individuals appeared to have greater freedom of action and where battles of maneuver were possible: combat in the air, in the deserts of the Middle East, and possibly the breakthrough battles of 1918.

The debate is also taken up by Alex Hern in The Guardian:

The first world war may not be the most obvious time period in which to set a team-based first-person shooter with a heavy emphasis on vehicular combat.

The pointless slaughter of trench warfare, with lines of enlisted men marching slowly towards machine guns that mowed them down by the thousands, all to gain or lose mere feet of frontline, isn’t exactly a “fun” scenario.

And while the Great War was the first time tanks, planes and zeppelins were used in combat, their deployment was often small-scale and of minimal strategic importance.

Nonetheless, Battlefield developer EA Dice has committed to tackling the period with latest game in the series, Battlefield 1. The definitive name comes from the studio’s desire “to portray the dawn of all out war… the genesis of modern warfare”.

It may also be accurate to suggest that the series has come to the 1914-18 conflict because it has run out of alternatives. Since the arrival of original game Battlefield 1942 in 2002, Battlefield has toured the second world war (multiple times), Vietnam, the present, the future, and even the battles between organised crime and militarised police forces in the cities of America.

Despite being the most removed from the present day, however, the first world war retains a unique position in the public psyche. Perceived as a shamefully wasteful contest between sabre-rattling empires, leading to the unnecessary deaths of millions, it has largely been exempt from interactive portrayals – apart from biplane flight combat sims and hexagon-based war games. Call of Duty briefly took players to an alternative, zombie-infested version of the conflict, but that’s about it.

This leads him to the broader question of how we remember wars:

But asking whether the first world war is an appropriate topic for a first-person shooter may reveal a more pressing question: why do we think any war is?

A game set in the Great War will necessarily whitewash the horrors of trench warfare. Even when games do tenderly address these subjects, they rarely do so through the medium of 64-player class-based combat. The beautiful Ubisoft title Valiant Hearts, about four characters attempting to help a German soldier, is a puzzle adventure that told human stories. It did not encourage players to excitedly recreate the battle of the Somme.

But games set in the second world war – which has been deemed acceptable as a backdrop to gung-ho shooters like Call of Duty and Brothers in Arms – tend not to address the disgrace of civilian bombardment, let alone the horrors of the atomic bombings or the holocaust.

Fundamentally, there are two second world wars. There’s the complex, messy one of history. The one where Britain entered a war not to fight an evil dictator, but to protect its allies and interests on the continent; where America sat out for two years as fascism grew popular within its own borders, only joining when Japan forced its hand; where the horror of the holocaust was known to Allied leadership, but not acted on, long before Russia liberated Auschwitz.

And then there’s the WWII of Boy’s Own, Eagle and Commando: Where Britain and America joined forces with the goal of taking on an evil empire, and liberating the people of Europe. It’s a reshaping of history, but one which enabled the horrors of the war to be understood and processed by a new generation.

By contrast, the first world war has only really had one portrayal. Starting with shellshocked war poets writing, and dying, on the front line, the horror and wastefulness of the Great War has never been far from its popular perception. Stories of (the fictional) Biggles, the (real) Red Baron and the flying aces of world war one are able to exist alongside the horror of the trenches, but never obscure them.

Maybe Battlefield 1 can enter that canon too, and slowly build its own version of the first world war to go alongside the cartoon retelling of the second. But if you think it shouldn’t be allowed to try, it may be worth first asking why you are happy with war games at all.

The game is set for release in October.


On the subject of videogames, the Russian Embassy in the UK posted accusations that Syrian opposition groups had obtained truckloads of chemical weapons, and attached photographic evidence. Well, sort of—the pictures were actually screenshoots from the game Command & Conquer: Generals.

The caveat “image used for illustration purposes only” was later added, but the tweet was not taken down.

Kelsey Atherton has the story at Popular Science.


Simulation and gaming miscellany, 11 May 2016


PAXsims is pleased to present some items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers. Research associate Ryan Kuhns provided material for this latest edition.


This War of Mine—the very successful digital game by 11 Bit Studios in which a player assumes the role of a civilian trying to survive the winter in a war-ravaged city—is going to be published by Awaken Realms in a boardgame version. The Kickstarter for the project is now live, and has received enthusiastic backing, with the project goals were reached in less than a day.


James Sterrett reviewed the original game very positively for PAXsims when it was released last year. I very much like it too, and have already pledged support for the project on Kickstarter.


Game designer extraordinaire (and sometimes totalitarian military dictator) Brian Train recently passed through Montreal as a guest of honour at the local Stack Academie gaming event, and to deliver a guest lecture on game design at the Université de Montréal. You’ll find a copy of his presentation here.


Brian also recently spoke at the US Army War College, where he tutored play of his forthcoming Algeria game Colonial Twilight.



At Red Team Journal, Mark Mateski discusses how red teams can understand the “operational code” of the actors they represent, and manifest this in game play or other red team activities.

Red teams are often expected to adopt an opponent’s operational code, although most red teams don’t directly employ the concept or term. For better or worse, the individual team members’ tacit knowledge regarding the opponent or competitor represents the sum of the red team’s operational code analysis. For example, a client might charter a red team to study a “cyber” problem from the perspective of a particular class of adversary, say, criminal hackers.6 The team would then employ its tacit knowledge of the cyber domain to view the problem from the perspective of the criminal hacker. In some cases, this may be sufficient. In most cases, however, value exists in at least roughly documenting the opponent’s code. Doing so brings hidden and perhaps varying assumptions to the surface, thereby encouraging the red team to refine and calibrate its perspective. It can help the team learn where its understanding is limited, where gaps exist, and how these gaps might be filled or otherwise addressed.

He also offers some important caveats about allowing an actor’s perceived operational code to over-determine their actions:

Complicating this approach are several real-world dynamics that can be both difficult to assess and difficult to overcome. One is the fact that uncertainty is inescapable. We can be more or less certain, but we must avoid the trap of believing that the operational code we posit is indeed the adversary’s “true” operational code, now and forever. Another is the fact that few adversaries are unitary and rational. What emerges as the perceived operational code might be (or probably is) the result of many stakeholder interactions and, at times, conflicts. Branding this result an “operational code” can mask these interactions and conflicts, which we should not do, at least fully. The challenge is then one of balancing the utility of a high-level model of the adversary’s operational code with the important understand of the stakeholders, concerns, and conflicts that move and shift behind the model. (All of which might conceivably be captured in the operational code.)

Additionally, operational codes might not apply in certain situations. These might include circumstances where one opponent or another chooses to act before thinking or sits on the horns of a dilemma where both options force the opponent to vary from his or her typical code. Finally, adversaries can at least attempt to project false signals regarding values, preferences, methods, and tactics. (In other words, deception might be an important aspect of their operational code.) Ideally, they would like us to operate under a mix of true and false assumptions regarding their code while they prepare to exploit our misperception. To close the circle, remember that we will always be operating under a mix of true and false assumptions. In short, proceed with caution whenever red teaming.

You can read Part 1 of his discussion here, with Part 2 to follow shortly.



The CIMSEC blog features a piece by LT Megan Mcculloch on “wargaming distributed lethality” in which she makes the case that the concept and capability can enhance both strategic deterrence and operational response, but requires considerable attention to planning and command:

Initially, my opinion of Distributed Lethality was that it was the current ‘flavor of the month,’ and I would pay more attention if it were still being discussed when I started Department Head School. This opinion changed dramatically when I participated as a Red Team member in an N96-sponsored game being developed by US Army, Air Force, and Indonesian Naval officers at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) to test various Adaptive Force Packages (AFPs) designed to optimize the Distributed Lethality concept

The game was eye-opening on both the strategic value and execution challenges of Distributed Lethality. As one Red Team player described it, in this particular region and the given scenarios, Distributed Lethality was “operational deterrence with strategic ambiguity.” The game successfully showcased how the different AFPs give Distributed Lethality a greater level of flexibility and increase the options available to COCOMs across the range of military operations. The use of smaller ships also has implications for diplomatic as well as military engagement with partners, friends, and allies, possibly serving as an operational or strategic force multiplier.

The value of Distributed Lethality, as tested in this particular war game, was of operational value; however, it also added complexity to the planning for the Blue team. Not only are the logistical challenges greater with a more dispersed force, but in the scenario given, the blurring between Red combatants and fishing vessels, as well as the use of disabling unconventional tactics [iv]was effective and were more difficult for the operational commanders to counter due to the political or tactical ramifications of any given reaction. While increased strategic ambiguity and disaggregated forces are strengths of the concept, they are also a potential weak point. As we give greater responsibility to and increase opportunities for early command commanders to operate in highly ambiguous situations, they need to have been exposed to and have trained to several different types of hybrid warfare specific to their area of operations before taking command.


In an article at The Strategy Bridge, Daniel Sukman argues for conceptualizing an “institutional level of war” that would focus on promoting innovation, adaptability, effective inter-agency process, and all of the bureaucratic-institutional characteristics that contribute to effective warfighting at both the tactical and strategic levels.


Wargaming, he suggests, can play an important role in developing such institutional capacities:

…planning in the institution can mirror planning in the operational force. Within the Joint Operational Planning Process (JOPP), wargaming is a critical part of course of action (COA) comparison. Similar to the JOPP, wargaming at the institutional level of war assists in the determination future force structure, and the required capabilities the force needs to fight anticipated adversaries. Recently, Secretary Carter has taken steps to prioritize service wargaming. For example, the use of wargaming at the institutional level can identify what capabilities the force needs, from skilled cyber planners to artillery that can shoot faster and farther. Identification of facts and assumptions and other mission analysis steps can drive doctrine development, while elements of design can influence the development of institutional campaign plan and strategies.

I’m a little dubious about the conceptual merit of proliferating the levels of war. That being said, I do think—not surprising for a political scientist—that Sukman’s focus on how institutions constrain or enable effective action is an essential one, and I too think that gaming has much to offer in this regard. While policy gaming is reasonably well-developed on concept, procurement and portfolio issues, it is still in its infancy with regard to institutional change, knowledge management, and innovation incubation.


Simulation and gaming miscellany, May Day 2016


In honour of May Day, 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, proletarian and bourgeois alike.



Have you ever wanted to mount a popular insurrection against the rotting edifice of twilight capitalism, seizing control of a large urban area from the repressive forces of the state? If so, perhaps Bloc by Bloc can teach you how:

In Bloc by Bloc: The Insurrection Game, players join a movement that is struggling to liberate a randomly generated city that changes every game. Each player controls a faction of revolutionaries fighting back against the authorities. The factions must cooperate to defeat their common enemy while carefully balancing individual secret agendas. Build barricades, clash with riot cops, loot shopping centers, defend liberated zones, and occupy the city before time runs out and the military arrives

In Bloc by Bloc: The Insurrection Game, players join a movement that is struggling to liberate a randomly generated city that changes every game. Each player controls a faction of revolutionaries fighting back against the authorities. The factions must cooperate to defeat their common enemy while carefully balancing individual secret agendas. Build barricades, clash with riot cops, loot shopping centers, defend liberated zones, and occupy the city before time runs out and the military arrives.

The project is currently raising funds on Kickstarter, while a print-and-play version can already be downloaded for free via BoardGameGeek.




Meanwhile in the anti-colonial struggles department, the GMT Games blog features a piece by Brian Train discussing the design for  his forthcoming counterinsurgency gameColonial Twilight: The French-Algerian War, 1954-62.

Also on the topic of the GMT COIN series, see this interview at GrogHeads with Volke Ruhnke, originator of the series and the designer behind its card-based system.


Propaganda can, of course, serve the hegemony of the ruling class—or be an element of revolutionary agitation. At  War is Boring, Matthew Gault interviews George Weidman how videogames can act as powerful instruments of propaganda.

It is an issue we’ve discussed before at PAXsims:



Speaking of the military-industrial complex in the advanced capitalist states, Simon Fraser University in Vancouver will be host to Global Model NATO summit this summer:

The Global Model NATO Summit Team would like to invite YOU to Simon Fraser University’s conference in Vancouver between July 25th and July 30th where real-world global issues involving and concerning actors such as Russia, the Asia-Pacific Stateand Islamic State will be examined from NATO’s perspective.

The event is catered for undergraduate students interested in Political Science, International Relations, Diplomacy and Military Studies, and History but everyone interested is invited to apply.

Participants will be briefed by NATO practitioners including high ranking Canadian and Belgian military officials, diplomats, and academics. Following the briefings, students will simulate NATO committees as Model Diplomats representative of their nation’s delegations. Each committee will have two graduate chairs, and one currently serving military officer chair at either the Commander or Major rank from the Canadian or Belgian Armed Forces.

The summit will have the following three special events included within the six days:

  • One dinner with Canadian Defence Minister the Hon. Harjit Sajjan.
  • One luncheon with Canadian Colonel Ian Hope.
  • One day visit to Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt on Vancouver Island for a briefing by Rear Admiral Art McDonald.

The registration cost is $375 and includes 6 nights-stay at a four-star hotel, breakfasts, and transportation to and from Vancouver Island.

You’ll find more information at


icons-about.jpgSome recent news on simulation and radicalization from the ICONS Project at the University of Maryland:

In January and February 2016, the ICONS Project’s Training Division had the opportunity to partner with Search for Common Ground Morocco, an international non-profit organization working to combat radicalization and community-based violence among at-risk Moroccan teens and young adults. ICONS designed and delivered a multi-phase, customized online role play simulation to facilitate communication across geographically distributed communities in Morocco. During the exercise, over 50 youth participants were required to negotiate to reach agreement on the use of funds donated to improve two fictional schools. After the simulation, 85 percent of the youth reported that they felt better equipped to work collaboratively within their communities, even with people they had previously viewed as adversaries. The vast majority reported feeling more empowered to advocate to government officials for resources, and more than 88 percent said they would recommend this training to other youth in their communities. ICONS was honored to participate in this unique partnership with Search for Common Ground in their efforts to encourage global peace building. For more information on this project, or ICONS Training services, contact Program Manager Erica Zacharie at

Join their mailing list for further news and updates.




The SIMNOVATE 2016 conference on medical simulation and innovation will be held in Montreal on 5-6 May, organized by the Steinberg Centre for Simulation and Interactive Learning at McGill University.

I’ll be presenting on serious games for policy analysis, and will post a session report to PAXsims after the conference.



Simulation and gaming miscellany, 22 April 2016


We are pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) games that may be of interest to our readers. PAXsims research associate Christian Palmer provided material for this latest edition.


9780262033992.jpgIt’s here!

Zones of Control—the truly awesome compendium on wargaming edited by Pat Harrigan and Matthew Kirschenbaum—has now been published, and is being shipped from the MIT Press warehouses as you read this.

Games with military themes date back to antiquity, and yet they are curiously neglected in much of the academic and trade literature on games and game history. This volume fills that gap, providing a diverse set of perspectives on wargaming’s past, present, and future. In Zones of Control, contributors consider wargames played for entertainment, education, and military planning, in terms of design, critical analysis, and historical contexts. They consider both digital and especially tabletop games, most of which cover specific historical conflicts or are grounded in recognizable real-world geopolitics. Game designers and players will find the historical and critical contexts often missing from design and hobby literature; military analysts will find connections to game design and the humanities; and academics will find documentation and critique of a sophisticated body of cultural work in which the complexity of military conflict is represented in ludic systems and procedures.

Each section begins with a long anchoring chapter by an established authority, which is followed by a variety of shorter pieces both analytic and anecdotal. Topics include the history of playing at war; operations research and systems design; wargaming and military history; wargaming’s ethics and politics; gaming irregular and non-kinetic warfare; and wargames as artistic practice.


Jeremy Antley, Richard Barbrook, Elizabeth M. Bartels, Ed Beach, Larry Bond, Larry Brom, Lee Brimmicombe-Wood, Rex Brynen, Matthew B. Caffrey, Jr., Luke Caldwell, Catherine Cavagnaro, Robert M. Citino, Laurent Closier, Stephen V. Cole, Brian Conley, Greg Costikyan, Patrick Crogan, John Curry, James F. Dunnigan, Robert J. Elder, Lisa Faden, Mary Flanagan, John A. Foley, Alexander R. Galloway, Sharon Ghamari-Tabrizi, Don R. Gilman, A. Scott Glancy, Troy Goodfellow, Jack Greene, Mark Herman, Kacper Kwiatkowski, Tim Lenoir, David Levinthal, Alexander H. Levis, Henry Lowood, Elizabeth Losh, Esther MacCallum-Stewart, Rob MacDougall, Mark Mahaffey, Bill McDonald, Brien J. Miller, Joseph Miranda, Soraya Murray, Tetsuya Nakamura, Michael Peck, Peter P. Perla, Jon Peterson, John Prados, Ted S. Raicer, Volko Ruhnke, Philip Sabin, Thomas C. Schelling, Marcus Schulzke, Miguel Sicart, Rachel Simmons, Ian Sturrock, Jenny Thompson, John Tiller, J. R. Tracy, Brian Train, Russell Vane, Charles Vasey, Andrew Wackerfuss, James Wallis, James Wallman, Yuna Huh Wong

You’ll find further information at the MIT Press website, and a full table of contents for the volume was previously posted on PAXsims. You can also read excerpts via Google books.



Last week War on the Rocks ran a piece by Joshua Jones on support for decision-makers through wargaming:

For those who believe that wargaming is a useful and important tool in defense decision-making, we should think about how to best communicate its benefits to this next group of leaders. While those who see value in wargaming might hold different views of the various roles of wargaming, we likely agree that it matters, meaning that it can help DOD better accomplish its mission while minimizing the costs in lives, money, and time. To this end, there are three reasons why a senior DOD official should be interested in wargaming and willing to commit his or her precious time to the endeavor: It helps leaders make decisions, it reduces the number of “unknown unknowns,” and it can overcome stovepiping.



The most recent issue of the Journal of Political Science Education 12, 1 (January-March 2016) contains an article by Nilay Saiya on “The Statecraft Simulation and Foreign Policy Attitudes Among Undergraduate Students.”

Professors of international relations are increasingly realizing that simulations can be a fun and effective way of teaching the complexities of the field to their students. One popular simulation that has emerged in recent years—the Statecraft simulation—is now used by more than 190 colleges and universities worldwide. Despite Statecraft’s popularity, however, little scholarship has attempted to assess its impact on learning objectives and students’ perceptions of the real world. This article attempts to help fill that void by evaluating Statecraft’s influence on foreign policy attitudes among undergraduate students. It finds that, while participation in Statecraft did not generally change students’ foreign policy preferences, it did have the effect of inducing foreign policy moderation among students who were initially very hawkish or dovish in their foreign policy orientations. The most important individual characteristics predicting foreign policy attitudes include a student’s political orientation and interest in the Statecraft simulation itself. The article concludes with some potential avenues for future research.



In the latest issue of PS: Political Science & Politics 49, 2 (April 2016), Mark Nance, Gabriele Suder and Abigail Hall provide an overview of “Negotiating the Transatlantic Relationship: An International, Interdisciplinary Simulation of a Real-World Negotiation.”

This article analyzes the effectiveness of an international, interdisciplinary simulation of an ongoing trade negotiation. It thoroughly describes the simulation, provides links to background information for public use, and offers suggestions on ways to further strengthen the learning outcomes achieved.



The Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies will be holding a professional training programme on the prevention of mass atrocities on 1-3 June 2016 in Montreal. The course will include a three hour session (facilitated by me) on simulating mass atrocity prevention, in which we’ll be using a matrix game to explore conflict dynamics and policy challenges.


In The Telegraph, Roccardo Cocciani of the student-run King’s College London Crisis Team discusses a recent simulation of rising tensions with China and with North Korea.


The political simulation/game Democracy 3: Africa (Positech Games) has been released on Steam:

Democracy 3: Africa is the new standalone ‘re-imagining’ of the hit political strategy game ‘Democracy 3’. Set entirely in countries on the continent of Africa, D3:A puts you in charge of these countries and challenges you to stay in power whilst fixing each country’s problems, improving the quality of life for your electorate, and steering them towards greater prosperity.

This turn-based political strategy game uses a unique icon-driven interface to help you navigate the most complex political and economic simulation ever seen in a computer game, custom-built on its own proprietary neural network. Democracy 3: Africa simulates the myriad interactions between voters, policies, economic and political variables, political parties and the various situations that develop over time.

The political settings for each country aren’t very accurate: as leader of Tunisia, for example, I enjoyed growing oil production but faced a challenge from militant armed feminists (who ultimately assassinated me!). Many of the policy choices seem rather European or unrealistic.

Still, it’s nice to see a political game set in a non-Western setting and it can be a fun (and very challenging) play experience.


Simulation and gaming miscellany, 13 April 2016


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. Ryan Kuhns contributed material for this latest edition.


JDMS header

The April 2016 issue of the Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation: Applications, Methodology, Technology features an article by Nathaniel D Bastian, Louis Boguchwal, Zachary Langhans, and Daniel Evans on “A multi-criteria, network analytic approach to war game participant selection.”

A critical component of the military war game planning process is selecting who should participate, as these participants heavily influence war game outcomes. These outcomes directly impact both strategic and operational decision-making and defense planning, shaping both future defense policy and budget. In this paper, we propose a novel team selection algorithm and decision-support tool combining methods from multiple criteria decision analysis and network analytics to select and visualize a group of war game participants. This method accounts for the diverse requirements of the decision-maker. The results are not only applicable to war games, but also to any team selection domain, such as employee hiring and college admissions.



Red Team Journal recently undertook an informal survey of red teaming jobs:


You’ll find the full results here.




At GrogHeads, Brant Guillory offers his no-holds-barred take on the recent debate over women and (war)gaming. It’s an excellent piece, and well worth a read.


On a somewhat similar topic, the popular online survival game Rust now randomly assigns players to be male or female, and doesn’t allow them to change either their gender or physical appearance. This has generated complaints from some male gamers, who seem to be uncomfortable playing as women.

Read more about it at  Motherboard, Quartzand Polygon.


The US Army has introduced a new training videogame that “will put company, battalion and brigade commanders in the hot seat to deal with sexual assault and harassment in their ranks.”


According to the Army’s press release:

The ELITE-SHARP CTT takes advantage of the successes of the ELITE Lite counseling tool in that it provides a standardized avatar for students to interact with and gives everyone the same experience every time. Additionally, Pavlichko said, like with the counseling tool, the ELITE-SHARP CTT diverges from the “old paradigm” of training, which involves a prepackaged slide deck, videos and classroom discussion, and instead provides younger officers with something they are more familiar with — gaming.

“So, we’re getting away from non-professional role players and just getting beaten to death with slide shows, and making it more engaging,” Pavlichko said. “Plus, for a lot of younger people, gaming is kind of innate and organic to them, so they understand it right away. The predominance of Soldiers coming into the Army at this point have a pretty robust gaming experience behind them.”

The game will be available on the Army’s MILGAMING website at


At his blog, David Eaves reflects on how player strategy in the game Werewolf “can teach us about trust, security and rational choices in communities that are, or are at risk of, being infiltrated by a threat.”

There are, however, a number of interesting lessons that come out of Werewolf that make it a fun tool for thinking about trust, organization and cooperation. And many strategies – including some that are quite ruthless – are quite rational under these conditions….

You can read more here.

h/t James Sterrett


Killbox is a 2015 game/project designed to provoke critical reflection about armed drones and the “war on terror.”

Killbox is a two player online game and interactive installation that critically explores the nature of drone warfare, its complexities and consequences. It is an experience which explores the use of technology to transform and extend political and military power, and the abstraction of killing through virtualisation. Killbox, involves audiences in a fictionalized interactive experience in virtual environments based on documented drones strikes in Northern Pakistan. The work is an international collaboration between U.S. based artist/activist, Joseph DeLappe and Scotland-based artists and game developers, Malath Abbas, Tom Demajo and Albert Elwin.

At GamerTrouble, Amanda Philips offers some thoughts, which largely focus on the gameplay experience.

As for me, I was rather underwhelmed: part of the game seems largely predicated on the notion that drones are rendering war more remote and anonymous, desensitizing operators to the killing they undertake. In fact, because UAV operators often closely follow targets with high-resolution sensors to determine “pattern of life” and make identifications, they’re arguably as close to the consequences of their actions as many military personnel (and indeed, appear to suffer from post-traumatic stress at much the same rate as aircraft pilots flying conventional combat missions).


Wargame_[space] is a blog about games, game design, and history. We’ve added it to our blogroll.



We really should link to the Defence Linguistics blog more often, because it has some excellent material. Recent posts address various conflict simulation design issues, as well as a brief summary of Brian Train’s Kandahar.



Last week we posted Peter Perla’s account of the recent wargaming workshop at the US Army War College—including a session on how the ancient game of Go might illuminate aspects of Chinese strategic behaviour.

Since then the blog of the American Go Association has offered more on the subject, summarizing an earlier seminar at the US AWC:

The seminar was the idea of Colonel Jack Pritchard, Chief of the Strategic Wargaming Division of the War College. Colonel Pritchard, who had never played go, became intrigued by references to the game in literature on military and political strategy, including a monograph written by Dr. Lai titled “Learning from the Stones: A Go Approach to Mastering China’s Strategic Concept, Shi” as well as Lai’s recent article “China’s Moves and Countermoves in the Asia Pacific,” Parameters, Spring 2015. Col. Pritchard
asked a member of his staff, Lieutenant Colonel Donald Travis, to organize a seminar that would introduce the game to other officers and civilians closely associated with the War College and affiliated programs.

LTC Travis, who has played go with the Carlisle Go Club, planned the event in consultation with Lai and two other Carlisle go players, Dr. Howard Warshaw and Dr. Fred Baldwin (above, right). The result was a four-hour session, divided between lectures and actual play.  Dr. Baldwin opened with a brief history of go from its Chinese origins to the present, emphasizing its appeal to strategic thinkers. Then, Dr. Lai applied go concepts more specifically to Chinese geopolitical aims. Dr. Warshaw followed this up with an explanation of the rules of go and fielded questions on go basics, including capturing, life-and-death, and scoring.

During the second half of the seminar, the officers and other go neophytes played against each other on 9×9 and 13×13 boards, during which Warshaw, Baldwin, Lai and four other frequent Carlisle-area players were available to answer questions.  Warshaw and Baldwin noted that the officers grasped the basics quickly, especially considering that none of them had ever played the game before.



A digital version of the highly-rated boardgame Twilight Struggle has (finally) been released today on Steam in beta version for both PCs and Macs. I’m looking forward to trying it out!

Also, an article at AV Club examines Cold War-themed games.



A recent debate at the American Museum of Natural History asked “are we living in a computer simulation?” As Scientific American reports:

If you, me and every person and thing in the cosmos were actually characters in some giant computer game, we would not necessarily know it. The idea that the universe is a simulation sounds more like the plot of “The Matrix,” but it is also a legitimate scientific hypothesis. Researchers pondered the controversial notion Tuesday at the annual Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate here at the American Museum of Natural History.

Moderator Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the museum’s Hayden Planetarium, put the odds at 50-50 that our entire existence is a program on someone else’s hard drive. “I think the likelihood may be very high,” he said. He noted the gap between human and chimpanzee intelligence, despite the fact that we share more than 98 percent of our DNA. Somewhere out there could be a being whose intelligence is that much greater than our own. “We would be drooling, blithering idiots in their presence,” he said. “If that’s the case, it is easy for me to imagine that everything in our lives is just a creation of some other entity for their entertainment.”

Such existential-sounding hypotheses often tend to be essentially untestable, but some researchers think they could find experimental evidence that we are living in a computer game. One idea is that the programmers might cut corners to make the simulation easier to run. “If there is an underlying simulation of the universe that has the problem of finite computational resources, just as we do, then the laws of physics have to be put on a finite set of points in a finite volume,” said Zohreh Davoudi, a physicist at MIT. “Then we go back and see what kind of signatures we find that tell us we started from non-continuous spacetime.” That evidence might come, for example, in the form of an unusual distribution of energies among the cosmic rays hitting Earth that suggests spacetime is not continuous, but made of discrete points. “That’s the kind of evidence that would convince me as a physicist,” Gates said. Yet proving the opposite—that the universe is real—might be harder. “You’re not going to get proof that we’re not in a simulation, because any evidence that we get could be simulated,” Chalmers said.


Former US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is encouraging the use of digital games to teach civic literacy. According to the New York Times:

Justice O’Connor is behind an animated civics education game called Win the White House, whose latest edition was recently released. The game has been played by more than 250,000 students just this month and is barnstorming its way through middle schools across the United States.

In the game — timed to this election cycle — students take on the role of imaginary presidential candidates who must learn how to compete civilly against opponents with divergent views on issues like immigration and gun control.

That Justice O’Connor would become an interactive game enthusiast may seem unexpected. Until a few years ago, she had never watched a video game — let alone played one.

“I was one of the uneducated adults,” she joked in a recent telephone interview from her home in Phoenix. Speaking of the learning objective of Win the White House, she explained, “We have to have a system that allows young people to approach problem solving from many different viewpoints.”

Justice O’Connor became involved in digital games after retiring from the Supreme Court in 2006. She started iCivics, a nonprofit civics education group, in 2009.

The group has since released 19 free online games, along with accompanying lesson plans, with the idea of making civics education less about rote learning and more about giving middle school students an animated glimpse into how different branches of government and the Constitution work. About 3.2 million students played iCivics games last year, the group said.

One rather hopes, however, that the game doesn’t mirror this year’s US presidential race too closely…


Simulation and gaming miscellany, 26 March 2015


PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers. PAXsims research associate Ryan Kuhns contributed material for this latest report.



Larry Bond and Chris Carlson—whose credits include best-selling fiction, the influential naval wargame series Harpoon, and more recently Persian Incursion—are interviewed at the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) blog:

There has been a fair amount of recent commentary on some of the challenges with wargaming, and where it should go. What are your opinions on this?

Commercial wargaming is a recreational activity, and fashions come and go in any industry. There’s a constant demand for innovative products, which can create not just new games but entire new genres. Miniatures games go back well before H.G. Wells’ book Little Wars, and board games to Kriegspiel in the 1870s, but in recent times we’ve added role-playing, computer games, collectible card games, and LARPing. Grabbing the players’ interest (and his dollar) will be a constant struggle.

From our own personal experiences, wargaming has a fantastic training and education capability. We’ve watched more “light bulbs” go on when players start to understand and appreciate a particular historical situation. A good game brings history to life and is far more instructive than just reading a dusty textbook about a particular battle. Wargaming, done properly, can be very useful for basic familiarization, looking at alternative courses of action, even analysis. The concept of wargaming is currently on the upswing, but we’ll have to see if this new appreciation is a true change in perception, or just a fad.

Read the full interview at the link above.



ExPatt, the magazine of the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky, discusses their most recent crisis and negotiation simulation:

Students of the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce, joined by students of the School of Journalism, participated in their spring crisis simulation on February 26-27. The topic this year: the European Union’s migrant crisis and the division of Belgium. This was the 11th crisis simulation for Patterson and fit well with the turn of events unfolding in the fall within the EU.

Students were divided into five teams representing the U.S., France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany; and leaders for each team were strategically picked by the Simulation Control (or ‘Sim Control’). Additionally, the school brought in Dr. Nick Clark of Susquehanna University to act as European Commissioner and to give background on EU history to the participants.

Among the challenges addresses were mass migration, terrorism, and intra-EU relations.



Russia has banned the Polish-made boardgame Kolejka (“Queue”) because of its depiction of communist-era shopping. According to Quartz:

The fraught relationship between Russia and Poland is playing out in an unexpected way: in a conflict over a board game. Russian authorities have decided that a popular Polish game that has been dubbed “Communist Monopoly” disseminates anti-Soviet content, and thus should not be sold in Russia’s stores.

The Russian version of the “Queue,” which simulates the experience of shopping in the empty stores of communist-era Poland, was released in Russia in November 2015. Several months later, the country’s consumer protection agency Rospotrebnadzor informed the game’s Polish producer TREFL that if it does not change the historical content of the game, it would have to take all of its products that are on the Russian market out of circulation, according to IPN, the Polish historical institute behind the game. IPN says that Russians have been allegedly filing complaints to authorities, outraged by a negative description of the communist system, and by the information that the Soviet Union had forcibly installed a communist regime in another country. For Poles, who lived under a Soviet-backed communist regime for nearly five decades, the historical irony is palpable.

IPN refuses to make the changes, and so “Queue” is no longer available in stores in Russia. The head of IPN’s education department, Andrzej Zawistowski, said that the charges were “absurd” and a result of Russia’s so-called “politics of memory.”

“When Russia takes the Soviet Union’s history as its own, it leads to some Russians thinking that criticizing the Soviet Union as a totalitarian regime is the same as attacking contemporary Russia,” Zawistowski told IAR, a Polish radio agency.

“Queue” was released in Poland in 2011, with translations into five languages. It aims to show a younger generation of Poles the exasperation of everyday life in communist-era Poland. Players have to buy all the products on their shopping lists in the five stores in the neighborhood–or on the black market. They have to wait for the products to be re-stocked, and in order to advance in the line, they can use cards such as “mother with child.” The game quickly became a hit, drawing long lines to get one, ironically.

You’ll find more about the game at BoardGameGeek.




The family of the late Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi were unhappy about his depiction in the videogame Call of Duty: Black Ops II—so they sued the game’s maker, Activision.

As the BBC reported earlier this week, they lost:

A French court has rejected a case in which the family of late Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi sued the makers of Call of Duty over his depiction in the best-selling video game.

Three of Savimbi’s children accused Activision Blizzard of defamation by representing him as a “barbarian”.

Magistrates said the lawsuit contained procedural flaws and that they had no jurisdiction in the case.


The family was seeking €1m ($1.1m; £0.75m) in damages.

“We are disappointed,” Savimbi’s son Cheya was quoted by AFP news agency as saying.



At The Verge, they discuss whether virtual (or augmented) reality headsets might transform table-top gaming:

Not so long ago, I would have mistook the augmented reality headset CastAR for magic or martian technology. In my demo at last week’s Game Developers Conference, the glasses made a real coffee table look like an animated game of Battleship, in which the ocean floor dipped through the wood and mortars arced inches above the surface. In another mode, toy army men fought one another, firing their plastic machine guns behind cover of a tiny car. Then two battalions of tanks traded artillery on a European countryside. While it’s far from the spectacular press images, above, CastAR’s augmented reality is no less an unforgettable experience.

There are certainly many exciting potential applications of  VR to gaming beyond its obvious use to expand traditional videogames. However, there are a few issues that the report does not address.

One of these is the continuing problem of virtual reality sickness, whereby many users report nausea after extended play. While this can be minimized by both technical means (for example, higher frame rates) and game design (fewer nausea-inducing perspectives and movements), it remains a significant barrier.

Another issue is tangibility: for many tabletop gamers, the physicality of game pieces is a key part of the gaming experience. For more on this aspect, see (VR researcher) Marcus Carter‘s excellent 2015 DiGRA paper on the role of physical dice-rolling for Warhammer 40K players, as well as some of my own reflections on the resonance of physical components.

h/t Adam Elkus 



The latest in the Tom Clancy videogame series, The Division, has been getting generally positive reviews. (Ubisoft’s promotion for the game also included an epidemic outbreak simulation that can be customized for your own location.)

However, at Wired Daniel Starkey worries about the implicit message of the game:

…Here you slaughter looters and riot-leaders en masse. And while farcical levels of violence are common in many games, The Division is also a Tom Clancy game, which brings with it an assumed air of realism.

That’s supported by the fact that Ubisoft painstakingly recreated Manhattan for the game. The accuracy is even a major piece of its promotional campaign.

When we start to factor in this presentation of ruffians and common thieves as heavily-armed, unreasonable monster-analogues, that starts becoming a critical problem. At the very least it comes off as tone-deaf at a time when the U.S. faces a lot of questions about how it responds to questions about government overreach and police brutality.

Common street punks are shown with military-grade hardware—machine guns, bombs, grenades, etc. They cannot be reasoned with or placated. At best you’ll get a few terse lines and a battle cry before they charge you. It’s a narrative throughline that’s eerily similar to the worst perceptions of the men, women and children at the end of our police’s gun barrels. This, we’re told, is New York, and these are its people: Recklessly violent to the point of being suicidal, and armed to teeth with the world’s most lethal war machines.

The Division wears the trappings of every other AAA game, save for the fact that its villains aren’t monsters. They’re desperate people. And while The Division claims again and again that you’re helping, that you’re the last bastion of goodness and Manhattan’s only hope for survival, you’re killing people who, not that long ago, were your friends and neighbors.

By my tenth hour, I’d lost track of how many people I’d killed. Every firefight in this militaristic dystopia wore me down. It was numbing. The Division muddles the line of realism and veers dangerously close to presenting actual, real-world problems as a simple binary.

I can accept games as escapism. I can accept them as a means to “unwind.” I can tolerate even extreme violence. But the time when we could let juvenile, reductive cynicism guide the themes of games is past. There’s a reason most opt for orcs or cyborgs as foes—we don’t have to deal with their reality. When I turn off the television after hearing about yet another mass shooting, or yet another black man’s life snuffed out by an overzealous cop, I don’t want to turn on the Xbox to play a law enforcement official mowing down wave after wave of hapless thieves.


An recent article in Newsweek explores how the depiction of Muslims in videogames perpetuates the terrorist stereotype:

An uneasy, dark humor pervaded the hourlong talk about Muslim representation in video games at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco on Thursday. The panel was made up of Muslims who work in the video game industry. As one panelist said, laughter is the only coping mechanism left.

Over the past two decades, Muslims have been one of the major video game villains, along with Russians and South Americans—whatever the “flavor of month” may be, according to Romana Khan Ramzan, a game design lecturer at the Glasgow Caledonian University in the United Kingdom. Popular games like Call of Duty franchise only help reinforce the mainstream stereotype that Muslims, regardless of nationality, are terrorists that need to be killed, argues Rami Ismail, a Dutch-Egyptian video game developer.

“Muslim blood is the cheapest on Earth right now,” says Ismail. “American blood is the most expensive. That’s all you are doing in Call of Duty: Just shoot the Arab.”

The panel discussed many examples of basic mistakes and misunderstandings by the predominantly white video game developing community—a 2005 study found 85 percent of developers were white—about the Muslim world, which is composed of 1.6 billion people, whether it be how Muslim prayers are held or how a terrorist leader from the Caucasus should not have a Arabic name.

A recent paper, presented at the 2016 ISA conference by  Brandon Valeriano and Philip Habel, found that Middle Easterners are the third most common identifiable foes in first-person shooter (FPS) videogames, behind aliens/monsters and Russians.


Source: Valeriano and Habel, 2016.



More evidence of the boardgame renassance? Vice offers a list of “Groundbreaking Board Games You Should Be Playing Right Now.”

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