PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Category Archives: simulation and gaming news

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 17 January 2017

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PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers. This latest edition was coauthored with Devin Ellis. Thanks are also due to Paul Strong, Yuna Wong, Tom Mouat, and James Sterrett for pointing out some of the other items we have included. We always welcome your suggestions for material to include, so keep them coming!

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hdr-usni.gifThe ongoing response to the Deputy SecDef initiative on revitalizing wargaming continues as different services, staffs, and organizations get their views into writing slowly but surely. One of the latest is this piece by CAPT Dale Rielage, in the US Naval Institute’s Proceedings magazine: “Wargaming Must Get Red Right.”

The piece is fairly basic in its observation of the link between quality red cells and quality wargame results, but it does include some interesting tidbits, such as a description of PACFLEET’s current red teaming practices:

There already are efforts across the fleet and key shore commands to increase the fidelity of Red play in specific events. Pacific Fleet has established an in-house Red Team. Dubbed the Pacific Naval Aggressor Team, it takes the role of adversary decision makers in fleet-sponsored war games. The team is drawn from N2/N39 personnel, who are assigned specific country and warfare areas that fit their backgrounds and experiences. They keep this focus area throughout their tours, building experience and insight. Depending on the requirements of the game being supported, the team is augmented by subject-matter experts from across the intelligence and operational communities.

Devin Ellis

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The “Working Group 3: Adjudication” report from the October 2016 MORS special meeting on wargaming is now available from here.

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The key recommendations of the Working Group were as follows:

  • The Wargaming Community and Senior Leadership get together and address the institutional barriers thrown up by DoD to the professional development of the wargaming community.
  • The Wargaming Community’s chains of command provide time and resources for adjudication and wargaming professional development.
  • The Wargaming Community develop and document educational and training materials, including an adjudication bibliography.
  • The Wargaming Community and Senior Leadership systematically identify which barriers and their possible mitigations are relevant to the unique circumstances of each organization that sponsors or does wargaming and applies the mitigations to the barriers.
  • The wargaming community continues a rigorous and disciplined continuation of this workshop’s results, both in their own organizations and together at workshops and conferences.
  • MORS sets up and maintains web sites that support each Working Group to maintain momentum.

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As AFP reports, the incoming US presidential administration has been playing games—crisis games, that is:

Members of Donald Trump’s cabinet arrived at the White House Friday for a series of crisis simulations designed to prepare them for taking office next week.

Current cabinet secretaries as well as Trump’s national security advisor, Mike Flynn, and his state and defense picks Rex Tillerson and James Mattis are among those taking part.

The White House said the tabletop exercises will go over previous crises like natural disasters and national security emergencies and game out hypothetical future scenarios.

“Some (are) related to domestic emergency response, the response to a natural disaster or a significant weather event, for example,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest.

“It also will include some foreign policy and national security exercises as well.”

One wonders if they included simulated random tweets from the President (and no, that’s not a real tweet above).

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In partnership with the Migration Policy Institute, Games for Change is hosting a $10,000 migrant game design challenge that hopes to inspire the creation of a digital game that connects existing and migrating communities:

The integration of migrant populations has always been an important issue faced by many countries all around the world. Integration is a two-way street, with native-born and immigrant populations both experiencing significant change, challenges and opportunity. How can a game help people understand and work through concerns over perceived job competition and changes in the cultural fabric while recognizing the economic, linguistic, and cultural benefits that can accrue to the broader society when immigrants can also succeed? How can a game experience emphasize community engagement to help migrants and their neighbors improve their understanding of each other?

You’ll find full details here. The deadline for submission is February 15.

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On January 11, Dr. Yuna Wong (RAND) gave a presentation on the Joint Irregular Warfare Analytic Baseline (JIWAB) study to the MORS Wargame Community of Practice. I was teaching at the time and missed her presentation, but you’ll find here slides here (ppt).

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Yuna is also the author, together with Michael Bailey, Karen Grattan, C Steve Stephens, Robert Sheldon, and William Inserra, of an article on “The use of multiple methods in the Joint Irregular Warfare Analytic Baseline (JIWAB) study” in the Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation: Applications, Methodology, Technology.

The Joint Irregular Warfare Analytic Baseline (JIWAB) study was a multi-year effort by the U.S. Marine Corps to demonstrate analytic methods better suited to irregular warfare than quantitative computer models and simulations. Multiple methods were used in combination to create and develop scenarios, understand conflict drivers and mitigators, and create potential U.S. responses. This article discusses the use of these methods, which included approaches such as general morphological analysis, wargaming, adaptations of conflict assessment frameworks, and others. This article also describes the larger context for the study within the wider defense analytic community.

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In the Naval War College Review 7, 1 (Winter 2017) John T. Hanley Jr. examines “Changing DoD’s Analysis Paradigm: The Science of War Gaming and Combat/Campaign Simulation.” It’s a very useful piece, and it is worth quoting his main conclusions at length:

The extent to which pseudoexperiments, whether war games or combat/ campaign simulations, are scientific depends wholly on the character of their execution. “Electronic computers, game-theoretic models, and statistical formulas are but instruments after all; it is not they that produce scientific results but the investigator who uses them.”Neither type of simulation is inherently more scientific than the other. The principal difference is that combat/campaign simulation is analytical—reducing the problem to constituent pieces—while war gaming emphasizes synthesis—ensuring all relevant factors are considered, including how they work together.

War gaming and large-scale computer-based combat/campaign simulation differ little in their inability to predict quantitative outcomes. The scientific value of the pseudoexperiment lies in the objectivity, rigor, and usefulness of the theory the pseudoexperiment represents. This includes the motivations, tastes and beliefs, and expertise of all the participants, including the client.

War gaming has a record of anticipating factors that largely govern outcomes, thus preventing surprise. Because DoD has used combat/campaign simulation for quantitative prediction, its performance at comparing quantitative results of combat models with actual combat has been less accurate and less reliable than that of war gaming that explored the processes and nonquantitative features that would affect a campaign most. Whereas those commanding and conducting operations rarely have the motivation and skills to become deeply involved in combat/campaign modeling, they can make the time and do have the skills to participate in war gaming. Repeated war gaming can provide firsthand experiences to limit surprise and facilitate recognitive decision making that allows rapid adaptation to emerging situations.

Using governing factors uncovered through war gaming, detailed computer models, campaign analyses, or other techniques to create simple models of the phenomena requires much more analytical skill than adding detailed models of additional processes to existing computer models. Simpler models provide greater understanding with appropriate precision than complicated computer models with large numbers of variables that give an appearance of precision but whose range of uncertainty is difficult to estimate and grows with the uncertainty of each parameter added and the square root of the number of variables.

Returning to the roots of operations research—observing, modeling operations, and collecting data in the field—is an essential aspect of a cycle of research. Work in the field yields data and knowledge that increase understanding of which concepts actually work and which do not, and provides essential data for use in computer and war-gaming simulation.

Although the discussion of questions and possibilities raised by developments in complexity sciences is incomplete, it suggests a need to reexamine combat models and to extend analytical techniques to add the rigor of appropriate techniques to combat simulation.

The Pentagon needs to overhaul its analysis paradigm if it is to meet growing security challenges with limited budgets. Overhauling the Pentagon’s analysis paradigm again will require interdisciplinary teams of scientists—from both hard and social sciences, and with an appreciation for the humanities—interacting in analysis campaigns and cycles of research. Client and contractor use and abuse of need-to-know security barriers and proprietary restrictions on studies present formidable obstacles to implementing scientific standards in DoD studies.

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Wikistrat recent published the results of a role-playing simulation examining Rethinking US Navy Partnerships.

Between August 15 and August 22, 2016, Wikistrat ran an online simulation to identify existing and prospective partnerships for the U.S. Navy (USN), outline the main challenges in achieving success in those partnerships, propose solutions for overcoming those challenges, and red-team the proposed solutions.

Participating analysts were divided into two groups:

  • Group Alpha: 17 analysts role-played the U.S. Navy
  • Group Bravo: 20 analysts role-played prospective partners

Each of the groups progressed simultaneously through four rounds, building out a framework based upon problem-solving methodology.

  1. Potential Partner Identification
  2. Proposing Solutions to Noted Obstacles
  3. Solution Red-Teaming
  4. Strategic Takeaways

PAXsims

At ExtraNewsFeed, Mintaro Oba discusses “How Settlers of Catan Explains International Relations.”

Besides the simple fact that it’s fun, Settlers of Catan (together with gin rummy, which I’ll discuss in another post) is the best representation of international relations in game form. And it raises fascinating questions about the nature of rules and how we create them — questions that are unfolding on the international stage today.

Cooperation in a Competitive World

Some games, like Pandemic, are almost entirely cooperative. On the other end of the spectrum are games like Risk — either entirely zero-sum (“my gain is someone else’s loss”), based too much on chance, or both.

Settlers gets it just right. It’s basically competitive and zero-sum; you have to build and grow your settlements, cities, and roads to get to ten points before anyone else. There’s a finite amount of the space and resources necessary to expand. The robber and certain bonus cards allow players to go on the offensive against other players. There’s a good chance players will be at each others’ throats as the game winds on.

But on the margins, economic interdependence allows for some cooperation. Players can only start off with a certain amount of the necessary resources. Some territories are more productive than others. Yet at various points in the game, any player will need brick, wood, iron ore, etc. So, players trade their comparative advantages; a player with a surplus of iron ore can exchange with a player who has a surplus of brick. Both benefit.

I’m not at all sure that it is the best simulation of international relations in game form. Moreover, despite apparent mutual benefits from trade—and unlike real global politics—Settlers of Catan is still a game which can only have one winner. In this sense, while trade may appear mutually beneficial, if it shifts your opponent closer to winning than it shifts you it’s a bad move. Ultimately, that’s a variant of non-cooperative, near-zero-sum play.

Having said all that, semi-cooperative game design is an important game design challenge precisely because semi-cooperation is so common in many real-world situations. You’ll find my thoughts on the issue in this presentation I made last year to the RAND Center for Gaming.

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charting-a-course-cover.jpgNational Defense University has recently published Charting a Course: Strategic Choices for a New Administration, edited by R.D. Hooker, Jr. In a chapter on “The Future of Conflict,” T.X. Hammes emphasizes the importance of wargaming in examing emerging issues and challenges:

As a power projection nation, our deployment options may become more limited. We have to think through the implications of forward basing in theater versus basing in the United States and deploying only for a crisis. Our enemies and allies see the increasing density of A2/AD systems globally. It is essential we modify our planning accordingly. Wargaming must examine the operational impacts of fighting a variety of enemies with long-range sea and air precision strike. China will not be the only power to own such systems. Just as importantly, wargaming must explore the political implications when an enemy can threaten other nations that support our deployment chain. (Japan, for example, is crucial to any effort to help defend South Korea and could easily be targeted by the North Korean regime in time of war.) Accordingly, we must seek methods to attack an opponent’s strategy rather than simply destroying its forces.

We need wide-ranging research and supporting analysis as well as wargames to address key questions. Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work’s memorandum on wargaming is a very strong first step. Continuing research is required to answer a wide range of questions:

  • Most importantly, how can strategy neutralize potential opponents’ strategies? For instance, how do we counter the perception that China may be able to exclude U.S. forces from the region? What steps can we take to assure allies that in fact we can honor our treaty obligations?
  • How do we protect those nations providing support as we do so—in particular, the politically sensitive targets that can be attacked with long-range, precise, but relatively low-explosive-weight weapons?
  • If we forward deploy, how dispersed will forward forces have to be to survive? How much would we have to invest in hardening forward bases versus investing in protecting stateside bases and building the lift necessary to deploy?
  • What are the political/alliance costs if we choose to station fewer forces forward?
  • Are we willing to employ long-range strike from the United States if we know the enemy can reply in kind? • Once forces are deployed, how do they operate in the presence of swarms of smart weapons?
  • Do we need to deploy more forces forward to ensure they are there for the fight? Or should we just preposition the equipment and supplies? Or are both supplies and forces safer out of the potential theater of operation?

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JPSE.jpgThe Journal of Political Science Education, now with a new editorial team under the leadership of Victor Asal, is looking for contributions:

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (editors: Mitchell Brown and Shane Nordyke): Submissions should use the highest standard of evidence in writing about evidence-based approaches to teaching practices and encourage assessment of such teaching and practices. Submissions can be diverse in terms of topic, analytic approach, and levels of analysis, but must maintain systematic methodological approaches. Length of manuscript may range from 3,000-8,000 words, and research notes between 2,000-5,000 words. Authors of accepted papers will be required to make datasets publicly available online through their choice of venue or provide a compelling rationale if they are unable to do so.

Political Science Instruction (editor: Joseph Roberts): Submissions should focus on innovative teaching cases that discuss useful pedagogy, including strategies, games, and experiential learning in teaching political science to diverse audiences. They should also be organized around real classroom problems and potential solutions.  Submissions may range in length from 2,000-4,000 words.

Reflections on Teaching and the Academy (editor: Mark Johnson): Submissions should be from experienced scholar-teachers that focus on reflections on timely and important teaching topics that include transitioning between institutional types, teaching under-prepared students, training graduate students for teaching careers, and other issues. Submissions may range in length from 1,000-2,000 words.

Books, Teaching Tools, & Educational Resources (editor: J. Cherie Strachan)Submissions should help readers identify available new books, software and resources, and to improve classroom and co-curricular learning experiences through reviews of textbooks, pedagogy tools and other related resources. Submissions may range in length from 500-2,000 words.

You’ll find more information at the Active Learning in Political Science blog.

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Kathleen Mercury has a useful website on game design, largely aimed at designing strategy games for children. You’ll find it at http://www.kathleenmercury.com.

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Here’s another useful resource: Exercise Design and Administration: Just the Basics (2005) by Kerry Fosher of the Northern New England Metropolitan Medical Response System.

The purpose of this document is to help you think through the decisions you need to make about exercise design and administration. It will also give you ideas on how to make the documents you need to implement those decisions. I recognize that the formal guidelines set out in other places may not always be realistic for reasons of time, staffing, or money. I hope that this document will help you think through the critical planning issues and get the most out of whatever resources you can muster.Throughout, you will find that I emphasize the need for you to develop your own system of exercise planning, one that meets your needs and can be truly effective without adding a lot to existing organization or resources. If you can read nothing else, read the segment called “Early Decisions” located in the section on Planning Committees. It will set you on the course to having clearly defined goals, responsibilities, expectations, and reporting.

This document does not replace guidance provided by other agencies. It is intended to help you think through your exercise process, which may include the need to follow specific guidelines from regulatory or granting organizations*. It is divided into 12 sections.

  1. RECORD KEEPING
  2. STAKEHOLDERS
  3. PLANNING COMMITTEES
  4. DESIGN
  5. OBJECTIVES
  6. PUBLIC INFORMATION
  7. SCENARIO
  8. EVALUATION
  9. CONTROL
  10. EXERCISE SUPPORT AND FACILITATION
  11. EXERCISE INFORMATION PACKETS
  12. ASSESSMENT AND INTEGRATION OF RESULTS

Each section contains suggestions for planning and documentation, but you will certainly find other things that need tracking. The suggestions should be used as starting points. Depending on your needs, you may want to adapt other organizations’ materials or create your own planning documents.The most important thing is that the information is captured in a form that exercise planners can easily use and update.

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Finally, continuing the theme of “stuff that isn’t new but I hadn’t read before,” how about putting your feet up and enjoying the fine plot elements and nuanced character development of the NATO Guide for Judgement-Based Operational Analysis in Defence Decision Making (2012)?

Judgement-based OA (called ‘soft’ OA in the academic world to contrast with ‘hard’, mathematics-based OA) is increasingly used to support defence and security decision making both at national and NATO levels. Such decisions need to be defensible when subject to scrutiny and decision makers must have confidence that the material presented to them is the best available so that the decision risk is contained. However, judgement-based analysis cannot be subjected to conventional tests of mathematical rigour, so an alternative strategy is needed.

This volume is directed to the clients of such judgement-based OA studies. These include decision makers, study sponsors, end users and other stakeholders. Its purpose is to:

  • Create an understanding of what judgement-based OA is, and what it can offer;
  • Identify the requirements for the client group in sponsoring and guiding judgement-based OA studies; and
  • Show how a judgement-based OA study is carried out in order to maximise the validity, credibility and acceptance of the study and its outcomes.

The analyst-oriented volume of the Guide (“Code of Best Practice for ‘Soft’ Operational Analysis”, the CoBP itself) describes the overall study methodology, the study process, the ‘actors’ involved and their roles and responsibilities, the achievement of validity, credibility and acceptance, and the communication with the client. The TG proposes that its work be complemented by an education program to introduce the opportunities offered by judgement-based OA to decision-making bodies within NATO and Partner Nations, and to show how to make best use of it. It is expected that once published, the CoBP will be reviewed and revised in the light of experience in practice. A third volume is a brief summarising brochure for (high-level, ‘executive’) decision makers explaining key aspects.

The adoption of the Guide is expected to increase significantly the acceptance of judgement-based studies within the military and defence-oriented operational analyst communities. This will, in turn, be beneficial to the quality of defence decision making through the enhancement of the versatility of OA support, to both operations and in longer term support of strategy and defence planning.

PAXsims

Not every wargame leads to an actual real-world nuclear crisis—but the Able Archer 83 exercise conducted by SACEUR may have, and remains the subject of much debate (apologies to Peter Perla and everyone else who is going to quibble with me, I know Able Archer is more accurately a live exercise, not a ‘wargame’).

Book-259.jpgNate Jones of the National Security Archive has just come out with a new book which makes a huge and important contribution to the analysis of the so-called “War Scare” of 1982-84. He publishes and analyzes for the first time a trove of newly declassified documents showing that the Soviets actually were much more alarmed than has sometimes been argued at the beginning of the Reagan administration – especially around issues of a decapitating first strike, which seemed very real to them with the potential placement of the early generation of cruise missiles in Western Europe (TLDR: their range was not sufficient to neutralize key Soviet strategic missile sites, but WAS sufficient to hit Moscow—so it seemed like a departure from Mutually Assured Destruction, and a move towards first strike capability).

The centerpiece document is the 1990 review by the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB), which concluded that the intelligence community had indeed misunderstood or ignored signs of Soviet alarm, and systematically downplayed the risks of escalation in official assessments. It goes on to explore some of the ways in which the Able Archer exercise fit into developing Soviet analysis of what cover for a U.S. first strike might look like (including some of the bomber deployments used), and led to alarming potential escalation.

Beyond the overall theme, two interesting notes for wargamers: one of the declassified documents is the AAR from Able Archer 83 – a very interesting read to those of us nerds out there, with great capture of the scenario, as well as the lessons learned from the game managers. Also, this conclusion from the PFIAB analysis:

In cases of great importance to the survival of our nation, and especially where there is important contradictory evidence, the Board believes that intelligence estimates must be cast in terms of alternative scenarios that are subjected to comparative risk assessment.

Without reflecting on any subsequent chapters in U.S. intelligence analysis where alternative scenarios and risk assessments might have been warranted… I think most of our readership would agree that sounds like a call to arms for more red-teaming and more gaming!

Devin Ellis

PAXsims

What the world really needs is an urban snow clearance simulation game. Fortunately the CBC and City of Montreal have made that easy, with this lovely hex-based map of where your car is most likely to be towed to make way for the snowplows:

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Consider it a PAXsims design challenge!  We’ll send a  souvenir bottle of melted slush to the winner.

2016 in review

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I’m happy to report that 2016 was, in terms of readership, PAXsims’ best year yet: we had 59,883 visitors last year, and 111,178 page views. Since the website was founded we’ve posted some 1,185 items, and our all-time number of page views is now rapidly approaching half a million.

In 2016 PAXsims readers came from an impressive 189 countries and territories. The US accounted for by far the largest share of these:

  1. United States (46.7%)
  2. UK (9.4%)
  3. Canada (9.3%)
  4. Netherlands (3.9%)
  5. Germany (3.1%)
  6. France (2.5%)
  7. Australia (2.1%)
  8. Italy (2.0%)
  9. Spain (1.3%)
  10. Russia (1.2%)

However, we also had visitors from such places as Yemen (3), East Timor (1), Iran (1), Syria (1), and North Korea (1).

Our most popular new postings in 2013 were on RAND wargaming the defense of the Baltics, the US Army War College’s strategic wargame program, Jame’s Lacey’s MORS presentation on wargames in strategic education, a report on the Sandhurst Kriegsspiel, and a review of the game Healthy Heart Hospital.

In addition, there were more than three thousand views of our page on AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game.  Now all of you need to buy a copy…

Brian Train remains our most frequenter commentator on blog posts. 350 of you subscribe to our updates via WordPress or email.

Onwards now into 2017!

War in Binni: another McGill megagame

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After the success of last year’s New World Order 2035 megagame at McGill University, we’re holding another on February 11: War in Binni.

The Republic of Binni is wracked by civil war. As President-for-Life Eddie Ancongo clings to office, rival groups of militias and warlords plot to seize power for themselves. Strange cults and radical extremists proliferate. Mercenaries offer their services to the highest bidder. Mineral prospectors and multinational corporations seek profit amidst the conflict. Archaeologists scramble to safeguard valuable artifacts from the ravages of war—or unscrupulously sell them to the highest bidder. Neighbouring countries meddle, seeking to further their own regional interests. The great powers call for peace—but is that what they really want?

War in Binni is a megagame designed by renowned (or infamous) UK game designer Jim Wallman. Approximately one hundred participants will assume the roles of national decision-makers, diplomats, international organizations, mercenaries, archaeologists, cultists, corporations, journalists, rebels, organized crime, and others. Can peace brought to Binni? Or will the country further descend into chaos? And what strange secrets might the country hold?

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“War in Binni” underway at King’s College London in September 2016.

Tickets are now available at a cost of $35 for McGill students, and $60 for others. Get yours now via Eventbrite–numbers are limited, and were quickly sold out last year.

The event is run on a non-profit basis, and is cosponsored by the International Relations Students Association of McGill (IRSAM) and the McGill Political Science Students Association (PSSA).

A report on last year’s game. New World Order 2035, can be found here and here. A summary of a War in Binni game played at King’s College London in September can be found here (although the McGill version may be a little more…. unusual.)

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Last year’s New World Order 2035 megagame at McGill University.

 

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MORS wargaming news

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The latest (December 2016) issue of The Phalanx contains a substantial report by CDR Phil Pournelle (OSD) on the Military Operations Research Society’s October 2016 special meeting on wargaming. This includes a summary of the keynote address by DEPSECDEF Robert Work:

The highlight of the closing plenary was the keynote address by Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work. He outlined the challenges to the department characterized by the proliferation of precision strike weapons across the planet and their use and development by our competitors. He is concerned that our advantages over our competitors are eroding. He discussed how in the past the US jumped ahead using technology to o set numbers. In World War II, the Army assessed a need to raise 213 divisions to fight the Axis, but we counted on superiority in air and sea power to offset these requirements and so chose to raise only 90. After World War II, the United States first offset Soviet superiority in numbers with the deployment of a large number of nuclear weapons. After the Soviets gained nuclear parity, the second ffset employed what the Russians called a Reconnaissance Strike Complex, combining near-zero-miss weapons, sensors, and a command structure to hit all echelons of a Soviet Army Group simultaneously. Mr.Work described how wargaming was crucial to the assessment process in each of these instances and he is convinced of the necessity to use wargaming to identify the next, or third o set. His vision for the third offset is largely dependent on how to best team humans and machines together, integrating the best of both into a capability greater than their sum. Normal quantitative methods alone are not able to capture many of the qualitative issues surrounding the challenges and opportunities we face. Therefore, there is a need for cycles of research integrating wargaming within the larger process in the Department of Defense.

The Deputy Secretary made clear that the wargaming initiative will go forward in the future. Financing for the DWAG incentive fund is in the Future Years Defense Program (FYDP) and would require positive action by future administrations to remove it. The key to long-term success will be for MORS and the wargaming community to capitalize on the opportunity and demonstrate value in the process for the department and the nation.

PAXsims’ own report on the meeting can be found here.

The same issue also contains an article by Robert C. (Barney) Rubel on “Connecting the Dots: Learning from Multiple Wargames.” Noting that the development of a DoD-wide wargame repository will generate potential opportunities to learn from multiple wargames, he highlights some of the methodological and analytical challenges of doing so:

It is one thing to sift through such reports to glean hints on how to design and conduct wargames or to cue follow-on gaming or other research. This kind of data gathering is valid in and of itself. However, if the researcher seeks to employ the results from multiple games to generate deeper insights on warfare subjects, to synthesize game results, to avoid distorted or erroneous conclusions. Synthesizing qualitative research results, which are what wargames produce, is not a well- developed eld, but there are a number of proposed methodologies emerging from the fields of medicine and social science research, such as meta-interpretation (Weed, 2005) and meta- ethnography (Britten et al., 2002) that could prove useful. This article will not delve into these techniques, but anyone undertaking to do multigame synthesis ought to review the literature.

Finally, it’s not too late to register for forthcoming MORS courses on Wargaming Theory (January 10) and Wargaming Research and Design (January 11), to be held in Arlington VA. Full details are below.

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Happy holidays from PAXsims

On behalf of everyone here at PAXsims—Gary, Ellie, Devin, Tom and myself—we would like to wish our readers the very best for the holidays. May all your conflicts be merely simulated, and not every game serious!

 

 

Reflections on the wargame spectrum

Colin Marston (Dstl) passed on to me some slides (public domain identifier PUB098428) presented at the recent MORS wargaming special meeting which address the range of wargaming approaches and methodology. Given the growing interest in wargaming—what it is, what it can do, and how it might do it—I thought they would be of interest to PAXsim readers. I’ve also inserted a few thoughts of my own.

You’ll find the full set of slides here here (ppt) and here (pdf).

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The first set of slide suggests that wargames can be differentiated by the level of analysis (strategic vs operational, vs tactical), by the nature of the problem (bounded and clear, or wicked and messy), and by the type of adjudication used (open/free versus rigid and rules-based). I would have probably listed the adjudication issue last, because the choice of appropriate methodology can really only be made once you are clear on what sorts of question(s) you are trying to answer.

The slides don’t say much about purpose. Elsewhere, Graham Longley-Brown does so, noting the divide between analytical and training/education games:

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While that differentiation is useful because it points to important differences in purpose and hence design, I’ll admit that I’ve been increasingly interested in the extent to which we might be able to develop hybrid games—that is, wargames that serve an education/training function, but in which participants are also generating data that is of analytical value too. My own Brynania civil war/peacebuilding game at McGill, for example, is designed for educational purposes but has now been used to generate data for two PhD theses (one on terrorist violence, the other on educational gaming). While there’s a risk of compromising analytical rigour or educational effectiveness in doing this, it could also provide a useful way of stretching limited resources.

The Dstl presentation goes on to discuss which game approaches are often of value in which contexts:

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Here they comment:

On this slide the top blue line represents the different levels within the problem space.  The red, middle line represents types of adjudication.  The bottom green line indicates the different levels of complexity.  On top of these axes we have the types of wargames that we employ in Dstl and across the MOD.  Please note that these techniques are not limited to their positions on the axes.  We find that the techniques on the left of the spectrum generally provide more opportunity for original thought and creativity (imagination). In addition, methods at this end of the spectrum generally provide an opportunity for doing lots of Courses of Action with little depth – so essentially short games that might last a couple of hours to a day.  The methods on the right can provide increasing depth, but are often slower to set up and run. These methods generally employ more rigorous and precise techniques – although that does not necessarily mean that they give more accurate outputs.  All of these approaches have their merits, some being better at trying to answer certain questions than others. So, when appropriate, we try to use a combination of different approaches.

They also identify some “essential elements” of a wargame:

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Now, the type of game that we use is just one part of the process. This slide highlights the other factors that we need to consider. There’s no fixed order in the way we tackle these – it’s an iterative process and depends on the question.

The wargame is not the simulation. The simulation is but a subset of a wargame.

Effective communication and transparency are crucial throughout the whole of the wargaming process and it is crucial that everyone – from the players to the customers – are involved at the relevant stages.

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The optimal approach to providing decision-support is often to fuse the information pertaining from both human-in-the-loop and non-human-in-the-loop techniques.

There are many different types of wargames and careful consideration should be given as to which type, or types, of game are most appropriate for a particular problem.  Also wargaming should often NOT be used in isolation but as part of a broader analytical tool and / or iterative process that incorporates a range of different techniques.

Feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments section.

Battle for Humanity — beta testers required

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Battle for Humanity is a digital game initiative by Search for Common Ground intended to promote cooperation and conflict resolution among youth and young adults. They’re looking for both playtesters and partners:

The Presidential election woke the U.S. up to our desperate need to listen to and understand each other. With our self-sorting on social media, at church, and in schools, we don’t build the relationships across differences that are vital for a functioning society.

We need to work together even when we vehemently disagree.

We can redefine “hero” to include politicians who bravely work across party lines to fix what needs fixing. To include the young Latina who asks a policeman for help, even though she’s afraid to. To include the Christian who intervenes to stop bigotry against a Muslim neighbor.

Over the past two years, we’ve brought together experts from engineering, marketing, and academia with young peacebuilders from around the world. We’ve envisioned a new way to reach young people with a vision of global leadership: Battle for Humanity – a global, online platform where social media meets real-life video game.

Battle for Humanity attracts young people who wouldn’t be caught dead at a peace camp. It starts building their empathy and leadership through our proven methods. It makes it normal to listen to your “enemy” with respect. It makes solving problems for everyone’s benefit the goal. All the while, you’re making friends around the world, gaining points, and moving up the ranks of this online community.

We urgently need your help to get Battle for Humanity up and running.

Here are three ways you can help:

1) Join now. Are you 13-30 years old? Do you have a child, grandchild, niece, nephew, cousin, or friend in this age range? We’re testing the real-life activities for this game right now on Facebook. Go to battle4humanity.org to enroll as a beta tester. Or help us recruit the young people who will design this platform from the ground up.

2) Connect us. Do you know a major foundation, police department, or university who might partner with us to bring some of our best solutions home to the U.S.? Tell us!

3) Give now. You can start building relationships of trust across Americans’ deepest fears. You can create the next generation of social technology that bridges divides instead of erecting echo chambers. Help us continue developing and testing new solutions to today’s most difficult conflicts – and bring our tested and proven solutions home to the U.S. where they’re desperately needed.

Battle for Humanity is a key piece of our dream for the U.S. We need a serious commitment from our friends and partners to make the whole dream a reality.

Will you partner with us?

Having dealt with them in the past I know that SFCG does some excellent work. You’ll find full details at the links above.

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Review: The Sandhurst Kriegsspiel

John Curry and Tim Price, The Sandhurst Kriegsspiel: Wargaming for the Modern Infantry Officer. Training for War: Volume I. History of Wargaming Project, 2016. 123pp. £14.95

 

sandhurstkriegcover.gifRecent years have seen an effort to (re)introduce a greater quantity and quality of wargaming into professional military education, notably in the United States and United Kingdom. This volume contains a number of British examples. It is written by two well-known experts in the field, John Curry (of the History of Wargaming Project) and the prolific but ever-elusive “Tim Price” (a currently-serving British military officer). Another British officer, Ed Farren, has also contributed to the collection. The book is amply illustrated with maps and pictures, and additional materials are available for download at the History of Wargaming Project website.

The book contains four wargames. The first, the Sandhurst Kriegsspiel, is a platoon- or company-level action meant to be played following a TEWT (tactical exercise without troops) earlier in the day. During the TEWT, officer cadets physically visit the nearby “battlefield” and ascertain how they might defend or assault a designated position. During the kriegsspiel, they then play this out against each other on a map using simple wargaming rules. The authors note one absolutely key point that underscores the value of wargames as an educational, training, and planning tool, namely what a fundamental difference it can make when one introduces an intelligent and adaptive adversary into the process:

Experience running these kriegsspiels shloes that BLUE often change their plan for the wargame from the one they have spent the majority of the day considering in the TEWT. When faced by an enemy played by their peers, who have spent the day considering the same situation, the players often realise that they have assumed that the enemy is stupid [and] incapable of thinking from the BLUE point of view. The RED team will know what the likely BLUE attack plan will be and have prepared for it.

The second game included in the collection is the Battlegroup Kriegsspiel, which introduces a simple map-based wargame involving multiple platoons and companies. The Modern Infantry Battle (or “Future UK Army Concepts”) wargame was developed to explore the implications of possible reorganization and reductions in the size of British infantry companies. This is somewhat more dependent on formal rules, and less dependent on umpire adjudication. Finally, Ed Farren’s Counter-IED Kriegsspiel has students play the role of a Blue force attempting to complete an assigned task—and a Red force placing IEDs and ambushes to try to prevent this and inflict casualties. All of these games are quite simple, but in many ways that is the point: even relatively quick and simple wargames can provide insight into military operations in a way that explores their inherently adversarial nature.

The many appendices to the volume include a summary of the UK military decision-making (or combat estimative) process; a (rather critical) British military assessment of the SPI commercial wargame Firefight (1977), notes on British Army weapons, and sample unit counters for the games.

The primary targets of this book are those engaged in tactical and operational military training. However those interested in teaching military operations in other contexts (including in university courses on modern warfare, which are often peculiarly devoid of any exploration of the tactical, operational, and strategic arts) will also find it useful. Hobby gamers may also derive from enjoyment in trying out the rules and scenarios with their opponents, in a “can you beat a Sandhurst officer cadet” sort of way.

Thomas Schelling, 1921-2016

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Thomas Schelling—Nobel laureate in economics, a key figure in the development of modern game theory and strategy, and a pioneer of political-military wargaming—died on Tuesday at the age of 95. You’ll find his New York Times obituary here.

Wargamers will be especially interested in his contribution “Red vs. Blue?” to Pat Harrigan and Matthew Kirschenbaum, eds. Zones of Control: Perspectives on Wargaming (2016). The chapter is based on an earlier talk he gave to the 2014 Connections wargaming conference.

It is also well worth reading Crisis Games 27 Years Later: Plus c’est déjà vua RAND reproduction of a lengthy 1964 exchange of internal communications between Robert Levine, Thomas Schelling, and William Jones on the strengths and weaknesses of crisis games as an experiential and analytical tool. Levine is skeptical and cautious, while Schelling (as in his chapter referenced above) argues they have considerable value when used properly.

Matrix game construction kit update #2

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I was in the UK this past week for a conference and several meetings, and while I was there Tom Mouat and I took the opportunity to run a playtest of A Reckoning of Vultures. This, as I’ve noted before, will be one of the sample game scenarios included in the forthcoming matrix game construction kit that Tom Mouat, Tom Fisher, and I are putting together.

I thought it went very well, both in terms of the physical game components (map, counters) and the scenario and associated special rules. We also received some very useful feedback from the participants. In particular, John Mizon has put together an excellent playtest report at his South West Megagames website:

On Sunday I was invited to “A Reckoning of Vultures”: a Matrix game designed by Tom Mouat and Rex Brynen [1]. The game is set in the capital of the fictional Republic of Matrixia, where the President-for-Life is on his death bed, and various power-hungry factions are jostling to control important parts of the city so they can seize power upon his imminent demise.

His report includes a full account of the game, including pictures. His detailed assessment will certainly prove very useful as we tweak the scenario further—so, on both of both ourselves and the oppressed workers of Matrixia, thank you John!

I should start by saying that this isn’t the first matrix game I have played – I have previously run a matrix game called ‘Kazhdyy Gorod’ [7]. Kazhdyy Gorod is similar to Reckoning, in that it is set in a fictional city undergoing political turmoil and unpredictability of who will end up in charge. Players complete to win popularity and power, trying to improve their situation (and often try to win more potential votes if it is decided the game ends with an election). The players have a map and unit/resource counters, but other than that there is very little structure (aside from the standard matrix game turn order/arguments process).

 I think that A Reckoning of Vultures benefited greatly from additional rules. The separation into two distinct phases of the game improved the pacing and helped flesh out the narrative; the use of specific counters for money, units and influence allowed for more satisfying tactical thinking; effective rules for combat meant you could clearly anticipate the benefits of which units you have; and having key locations to control meant that players had clear objectives to plan around – whilst still allowing enough freedom in the space in between to encourage both player creativity and development of a flexible narrative.

I believe that the key locations also solved an issue that I had found in Kazhdyy Gorod. Namely that the rigid turn order structure and range of actions available caused problems as to how long each player’s turn lasted in the game’s time. For example, one player’s ambush would happen in the same round as another player’s political campaign, and things became messy and it was hard to gauge what was happening within the narrative. The key locations meant that most turns were players moving to and/or doing something important in one location – thus ensuring that the turn times felt uniform.

As someone pointed out in the post-game discussion, there’s a significant amount of random chance, especially in the final phase – but I think that’s fine considering that it’s a relatively short game. The random dice rolling at the end also means that the key locations are not the final decider – if that were the case then players would be incentivised to be doing constant mental arithmetic over key location control (and potential future control) in order to win at the end, which I believe would be stressful and tedious. Adding random chance at the end means you can just do your best when obtaining key locations, taking actions based on instinct and informed guessing.

As Rex pointed out afterwards, the final phase of the game is also meant to show how a matrix game, benefiting from its value as a simulation, can be used to provide starting points for other types of game, such as the dice rolling mechanics of the final phase.

I have three negative observations, though the first two apply to matrix games in general, so they’re more systemic weaknesses than fixable problems or mistakes.

Firstly, it’s clear that matrix games are not for everyone. This is true of any kind of game of course, but matrix games look like board games and sound slightly like RPGs, whilst actually lacking a large amount of structure compared to these. If you are intending to play a matrix game with board game or RPG players, be careful to manage expectations. Matrix games’ strengths are in their ability to simulate and to create freeform narratives, so they’re best suited to players who will be willing to engage with games in order to experience those. If your players are likely to enjoy games less when they lack a lot of structure, be careful with matrix games; relative to other games, there is a lot of doubt and uncertainty about actions’ mechanical effects, and players will need to be able to move their focus away from winning sometimes in order to allow the simulation and communal narrative to work.

Secondly, as I know from experience with Kazhdyy Gorod, matrix games need a Facilitator who is both good at managing their players and comfortable with their knowledge of the setting. The freedom allowed by matrix games can end up leading to long debates about what will work and what won’t, or about what certain aspects of the setting are or aren’t. A good Facilitator needs to be able to be both flexible and firm – allowing player creativity and taking in arguments, but also knowing when to finish things and move on to avoid further debate that slows and muddies the game. Thankfully, Rex was a great Facilitator for our game.

The third criticism is more about the game as an event than as a game. The two main phases are of unpredictable length – which I thought was very interesting in terms of decision making during the game, but if you were planning to run this game, it might cause problems, as you wouldn’t know whether it would take under an hour to play or possibly up to about 4 hours. Depending on what context you are trying to organise this game in, this may be an issue. In a way, this can be seen in our playthrough – where the first phase was only two rounds long (about as short as it can reasonably be without someone deliberately assassinating the president), so we didn’t get to experience much of it, and this meant that there was less feedback on how well the first phase worked.

The wargaming Wrens of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit

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In the latest issue of the Women in War newsletter (Autumn/Winter 2016), Paul Strong outlines the crucial role that members of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS, better known as Wrens) played as anti-submarine warfare operations analysts and wargamers in the Western Approaches Tactical Unit during Battle of the Atlantic. I’ve excerpted some sections below, but you really should read the whole thing.

Sir Charles summoned Captain Gilbert Roberts, an experienced officer who has been invalidated out of the service due to tuberculosis, to the Admiralty to discuss options for resolving Churchill’s concerns with Admiral Sir Cecil Usborne, the First Sea Lord’s adviser on Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW).

Usborne believed that there was a chronic lack of escorts but that the tactics they used were probably sub-optimal. Roberts was to form a new operational analysis team, to be called the Western Approaches Tactical Unit (WATU) to explore and evaluate new tactics and then to pass them on to escort captains in a dedicated ASW course.

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The WATU facility was primitive, with tactical tables, a tactical floor divided into squares, basic ship models and a lecture theatre, but Roberts quickly got to work. A basic set of wargame rules was developed with processes to represent real-time decision cycles, tactical doctrine, and communications issues. Then the room was re-designed so that players representing escort commanders could only see the gameplay through a restrictive screen to represent the limited information that they would have in a real battle. The U-Boat track was invisible to players and shown as a brown chalk line so the umpires could follow its progress.

Roberts was assigned a small staff, Chief Petty Officer Raynor was the first then the Wrens appeared. Four Wren officers, Elizabeth Drake, Jane Howes, Jean Laidlaw and Nan Wailes, described as ‘real gems’ by Roberts, all brimming with enthusiasm and delighted to be doing serious work. In addition, four Wren ratings appeared, two were only seventeen.

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A sceptical Sir Percy Noble arrived with his staff the next day and watched as the team worked through a series of attacks on convoy HG.76. As Roberts described the logic behind their assumptions about the tactics being used by the U-Boats and demonstrated the counter move, one that Wren Officer Laidlaw had mischievously named Raspberry, Sir Percy changed his view of the unit. From now on the WATU would be regular visitors to the Operations Room and all escort officers were expected to attend the course.

Interestingly, out of the 5,000 officers who attended the school, none had the slightest problem with being instructed by young Wrens – particularly as they proved extremely skilled at guiding their students through the more complex manoeuvres without hurting their feelings (there is an amusing but highly technical example in Mark William’s excellent biography Captain Gilbert Roberts RN and the Anti-U-Boat School).

Each of the courses looked at ASW and surface attacks on a convoy and the students were encouraged to take part in the wargames that evaluated potential new tactics. Raspbery was soon followed by Strawberry, Goosebery and Pineapple and as the RN went over to the offensive, the tactical priority shifted to hunting and killing U Boats. Roberts continued as Director of WATU but was also appointed as Assistant Chief of Staff Intelligence at Western Approaches Command.

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When Roberts accepted his award as Commander of the British Empire at the end of 1943, he took a Wren Officer and Rating with him to Buckingham Palace, intentionally sharing the honour with the team of remarkable young women that helped the Western Approaches Tactical Unit win the Battle of the Atlantic.

 h/t Colin Marston

Collision of Tropes: DC Edition

It’s not everyday the liberal establishment and the wargaming community of interest meet in one event (other than when Rex and I have drinks and talk about US foreign policy…), but here is the forthcoming  New Yorker article entitled “War Games” which covers the story of a bunch of IC professionals playing Axis and Allies and lamenting the political situation today…

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Wargaming, bomber escorts, and the P-51 Mustang

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War is Boring has just published an excellent piece by James Perry Stevenson and Pierre Sprey on the P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft, highlighting the many doctrinal and bureaucratic battles that shaped its development during WWII. Among the points that are made: many early US army aviation wargames and exercises were designed to validate the flawed concept that fast bombers required no fighter escort, while later wargames and exercises that pointed to the vulnerabilities of unescorted bombers were ignored or reinterpreted.

Between World War I and World War II, bombers began flying higher and faster than existing obsolete biplane fighters. Still, the U.S. Army Air Corps’ bomber generals refused to foresee that enemy fighters might prevent the lumbering aircraft from always getting through to the target.

These officers even ran field exercises designed to support their premises of bomber invincibility. U.S. Army Lt. Col. Henry “Hap” Arnold, a leading bomber advocate who would eventually become chief of the service’s Air Corps, was particularly determined to prove this point.

“Exercises held in 1931 seem to reinforce the idea that fast bombers could fare well on their own,” military historian Dr. Tami Davis Biddle wrote in Rhetoric and Reality in Air Warfare. “Arnold reached this conclusion, as did the umpires, one of whom proclaimed: ‘[I]t is impossible for fighters to intercept bombers and therefore it is inconsistent with the employment of air force to develop fighters.’”

This rigid mindset became embedded in the Army’s air power strategy, its budget battles and its endless barrages of air power propaganda.
Within just a few years, however, fighter war games and actual air combat abroad provided ample evidence the Army Air Corps brass was committed to the wrong conclusion.

“[I]n 1933, … squadrons intercepted 55 percent of enemy day-formations as they flew toward the target, … another 26 percent as they left it; [and] 67 percent of individual night raiders were intercepted,” Biddle noted. “But what might have seemed clear defensive victories were not perceived as such: proponents of strategic bombing refused to grasp the devastating bomber attrition forecast by these exercise outcomes.”

“When assessing results, the bomber advocates created both formal rules and cognitive filters [to insure] they would see what they expected to see: the primacy of the aerial offensive waged by determined bombers,” she added. “The rules under which the exercise were run gave advantages to bombers, and umpire rulings explained away unexpected, [inconvenient] results.”

The piece highlights that wargames themselves take place in a broader institutional and doctrinal context, in which sponsors and participants may be anxious to have them serve other agendas. Of course, good wargame design can reduce some of these problems of bias and cognitive filtering. However, the design alone is not enough: serious gamers also need to think to about the broader processes within which their games are embedded.

Wallace: Wargaming needs new recruits

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At How Do We Get to Next?, Mark Wallace discusses the importance of expanding the ranks of professional national security gaming, and developing greater professional competencies in the field:

Since the early 19th century, the loose collection of military thought experiments known as wargames has been informing commanders on the eve of battle and at the height of cold wars. Wargames have guided significant tactical and strategic decisions in conflicts including World War II, the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and undoubtedly others we don’t even know about. Now, as part of a new emphasis at the Department of Defense on using innovation to sustain the United States’ military position in the world, wargaming is set to play a bigger role than it has in decades.

But as the province of a bunch of “middle-aged white men,” who for the most part came to wargames first as a hobby, the discipline is in sore need of younger and more diverse practitioners to fill out a roster that is increasingly “hair-pigment challenged,” as one person put it. So if wargames are to remain as useful as they’ve become, the question Wong wants to answer is, how do we train a new generation of these grognards?

The “Wong” being cited, of course, is none other than occasional PAXsims contributor Yuna Wong (RAND).

Also cited in the piece are (Connections wargaming conference guru) Matt Caffrey:

Caffrey also believes wargames can save civilian lives, as well as the lives of combatants. “The U.S. and our allies typically try to win our wars fast, with as few casualties overall and with the least destruction as we can,” he says. “This is because such victories produce a better state of peace. Wargames help us fight smarter, hence get closer to our ideal form of victory.”

“Two of the biggest problem with wargames are that outcomes are being taken too seriously, and that outcomes are not being taken seriously enough,” Caffrey says. “You can never prove what’s going to happen in the future. A wargame never proves anything. In fact, if a contractor says this wargame proves you should buy my product, run screaming.”

…(wargaming wise man) Peter Perla:

One of the reasons wargames work so well, according to Perla, is that the collaborative storytelling process gives players a “you are there” feeling that brings out their best thinking, and helps them internalize the experience and make it part of their problem-solving toolset for the future.

One of the most eminent of the craft’s eminences grises, Perla is also one of the grayest: “A lot of the really knowledgeable master wargamers, we’re getting up there in years,” he says. “I’m sort of semi-retired now, and I’d like to be more than semi soon. We’ve got to build the cadre of people who really understand what wargaming is, how to do it, and how to use it.”

…(PAXsims associate editor) Tom Mouat:

A more rigorous approach is clearly needed, and could also help address some questions that even the experts have. “Wargames create that environment in which people will start to think more broadly about a problem, think in an indirect manner, and generate original and unusual solutions,” says Mouat. “But there is the issue of whether manual wargaming begets original thought, or whether organizations that engage in original thought tend to have wargaming.”

…and yours truly too.

You can read the full article at the link above.

Matrix game construction kit update #1

Tom Fisher, Tom Mouat, and I are currently developing a matrix game construction kit that will contain pretty much everything anyone needs to design, and run, a matrix game. Specifically, it will include:

  • coloured tokens, representing the assets belonging to each player in a game;
  • a large collection of adhesive stickers for the tokens, representing pretty much all of the military units, civilians, and effects markers one might need;
  • access to Avery-format templates to enable additional stickers to be printed on any laser printer;
  • a general set of matrix game rules and design guidelines;
  • maps (in the kit, or downloadable);
  • two complete games to serve as examples.

The idea here is to make it relatively simple for anyone to buy the construction kit, design a game or scenario, and customize the tokens as need be using the stickers provided. We hope to have the entire thing finished by the Spring of 2017. Our efforts are being supported by Dstl.

The first game to be included will be ISIS CRISIS, with game scenarios covering both the rapid expansion of ISIS control in Iraq in 2014, and the Iraqi/Kurdish/coalition counter-offensives of 2015-16. ISIS CRISIS has been extensively playtested over the last couple of years, and  nicely illustrates how a matrix game can be used to model a contemporary political-miitary campaign at the strategic and operational level.

The second game will be a newly-designed one, A RECKONING OF VULTURES.

A RECKONING OF VULTURES is set in the capital of the fictional Republic of Matrixia. There, in the ornate Presidential Palace, surrounded by his most loyal Presidential Guards, the President-for-Life is on his death-bed—and various power-hungry factions are jostling to take power themselves. Once the President passes, competition between the would-be successors will escalate to open conflict until such time as the Central Committee of the Ruling Party can meet and agree on a successor.

A Reckoning of Vultures is a fictional scenario designed to demonstrate aspects of matrix game design. Unlike ISIS Crisis, the focus here is on urban space. Additional markers are used to indicate unit status, in this case the influence that rival factions seek to exert over actors, institutions, and assets. The game has three distinct phases—As Vultures Circle, By Beak and Talon, and The Buzzards’ Banquet—each with its own rules and game dynamics. Moreover, most of the final part of the game does not use matrix game-type interaction at all—thereby highlighting the ways in which a matrix game may be linked into another game system by generating scenarios, situations, or contexts.

Five factions compete for power in A RECKONING OF VULTURES:

  1. The Central Security and Intelligence Directorate (CSID) are Matrixia’s shadowy—and much-feared—secret police, responsible for maintaining a close watch on both dissidents and potential rival power centres within the regime. Although lacking large numbers of armed personnel, covert CSID operatives are well-placed to blackmail, influence, sabotage, subvert, or spy.
  2. The Matrixian Armed Forces (MAF) can call upon large numbers of military personnel located in three major military bases around the capital. Inter-service rivalries and the influence of other factions may mean, however, that not all MAF units are loyal or obey orders.
  3. The Ministry of the Interior (MoI) has authority over police and emergency services personnel in the capital. Although MoI units are well-positioned across the city, most are inferior in combat capability to those of the regular military.
  4. Much of what happens in Matrixia is controlled or influenced by a group of rich and powerful Oligarchs, who control much of the business sector. Although they have only a few private security guards and mercenaries to safeguard their positioned, they have considerable wealth that can be used further their political ambitions—as well as ties to the country’s major criminal syndicates.
  5. The National Union of Toilers (NUT) represents the downtrodden workers of the country. NUT hopes to mobilize the workers and their allies and advance their political agenda  through strikes, demonstrations, and direct action. If they are able to arm some of their followers into a workers’ militia, they could become very powerful indeed.

Last night Tom Fisher and I playtested with the game with five volunteers from McGill University, plus a generous supply of pizza. None of the players were professional or serious hobby wargamers, although four had previously played ISIS CRISIS, and the other had taken part in some of our other political-military games.

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Setting up the game. Unlike the playtest version shown here, the final version of the game will include a fictional tiled urban map that can be assembled in many different ways.

All in all, the game went very well. It was certainly very close right up to the end.

Phase 1: As Vultures Circle

In the first phase of the game it looked as if CSID were establishing a commanding lead, having heavily infiltrated army units at the main military barracks. The Matrixia Armed Forces commander responded by redeploying suspect units away from key locations. The Ministry of Interior sought to purge CSID agents from among the ranks of the police. The wealthy Oligarchs focused on raising new funds, as did the National Union of Toilers.

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Much plotting (and pizza) underway.

Phase 2: By Beak and Talon

When the President-for-Life died on turn 3, however, everything was thrown into turmoil. The loyalty of most Army units held. Moreover, the Army had secured influence in the forces guarding the CSID HQ, setting the stage for an extended battle for control there. The Oligarchs hired private security forces/mercenaries, and tried to seize the national airport—but were decimated by the MoI police units there.

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The President-for-Life is dead. Police units have blocked the nearest bridge, while rogue CSID and MAF units fight for control of the Intelligence Directorate. The colour of the token indicates (original) unit ownership, the adhesive graphic indicates unit type (police, infantry, leader, secret files, etc), and the smaller disks indicate units that have been subverted by another player.

MAF marines stormed the Presidential Palace, while MAF helicopter-borne paratroopers took control  of parliament. MAF aircraft also bombed the police units holding the Ruling Party headquarters, but to little effect. In retaliation MoI prison guards released NUT prisoners from the central prison, and together they sought to seize the main airforce base. They were unsuccessful.

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Tom Fisher looks on as MAF Marines storm the Presidential Palace and Paratroopers seize Parliament.

Phase 3: The Buzzards Feast

The final phase of the game began when the Ruling Party finally met (despite delays due to MoI control of the airport) to choose a new President-for-Life. The MAF Chief of Staff started with a slight advantage due to control of strategic locations in the capital, although MoI control of the Ruling Party headquarters would prove useful when the various rounds of voting were tallied.

The Oligarchs and CSID were quickly eliminated from competition, although the former’s superior financial resources allowed them to survive the game intact and place second overall. In Matrixia, money talks!

The leader of the National Union of Toilers fell out of consideration next.  Due to the workers’ having seized control of the main port earlier in the game, however, he was able to escape the country. The proletarian struggle is not yet dead!

In the final round of voting the Minister of the Interior managed to narrowly beat the MAF Chief-of-Staff, who promptly fled the country.

However the head of CSID was less fortunate. The former secret police chief was arrested, executed, and found guilty of treason—in that order.

Next Steps

The game was a lot of fun. We also had some very useful feedback, and in particular we’ll be adjusting some of the rules, especially regarding influence and subversion. Everyone thought the three phases of the game worked well together, and nicely illustrated the different ways matrix game mechanisms could be used.

In the coming weeks and months we’ll be writing and modifying rules, finalizing graphics, and doing some more playtesting. Watch this space!

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