The Center for New American Security (CNAS) Gaming Lab did a game on a Chinese invasion of Taiwan for Meet the Press Reports. Over the course of multiple moves CNAS gamers Becca Wasser (Red) and Chris Dougherty (Blue) discussed the options with the players and guided team play. Working with Chuck Todd, Ed McGrady and Stacie Pettyjohn, adjudicated the outcomes and built the story of what happened. Stacie was then debriefed by Chuck on camera. The game will come out Thursday, May 12, at 10:30PM EDT streaming on NBC News Now, MTP Reports. It will also be streaming on Peacock. In addition to the game, Becca and Ed discussed gaming and Taiwan with Chuck Todd on his half hour podcast. That is forthcoming.
NBC News has a description of the game (by Carol Lee) on their website which includes a short (11 minute) sneak peak of the approximately 50 minute full episode.
The US Army War College War Room podcast features a discussion by Chris Steinitz, Erin Sullivan and Ron Granieri:
Wargames can be incredible teaching and learning tools when they are built and utilized properly. They come in all shapes, sizes and colors and require a skilled hand in their creation. A BETTER PEACE welcomes two such skilled developers, Chris Steinitz and Erin Sullivan to the studio to share their experiences as game developers and discuss how they started in the wargaming world. Chris and Erin join podcast editor Ron Granieri to talk about what makes a great wargame, what crucial information is necessary before even starting construction of a game and when you truly need a wargame versus tailored analysis.
The Militainment Game Design Competition 2022 offers a unique opportunity to emerging game developers to showcase their creativity and skills. We are inviting game developers (teams or individuals) to submit game ideas that foster broader public interest for wide ranges of military occupations (see resource list below). The delivery of the proposed game ideas is open and could be in the form of mini-games, multi-player role-playing games, strategy games, among others.
The core requirements for the game template include realistically portraying military characters as confident, disciplined, and focused individuals, who remain eager and passionate to engage in humanitarianism to assist people and communities during natural disasters, such as flood, forest fire, among others. It is also imperative to include racial, age, gender, and religious inclusivity among the military characters.
Game developers are to submit a video, including closed captions, of their designed game as well as a proof of original concept.
The top three teams shall receive contracts equivalent to the amounts below to further develop their proposed game into a functionable prototype.
All games “meaningful digital component” (so no manual games). The deadline for submissions is May 15. Further details at the link above.
The following article was written by Steven Wagner, Senior Lecturer in International Security, Brunel University London. An earlier version was presented to the International Studies Association annual meeting in March 2022.
In this paper, I share and discuss a simulation I run for my module on Intelligence History: Failure and Success, which is part of our MA in Intelligence and Security studies. My goal here is to share some evidence I have collected about the pedagogic value of the exercise, and the after-action report which students submit (and are assessed on). I will publish some drafts of the briefing papers along with this report.
As a DPhil student, my supervisor, Rob Johnson, ran a similar kriegspiel for staff college and he kindly lent me his briefing materials which helped inform my own simulation design. As a postdoc at McGill, Rex Brynen encouraged me to consider an exercise like this in the style of a matrix game. Rex regularly uses this medium for teaching, assessment, and research, and is a true champion of this community. He and Maj. Tom Mouat were very helpful in providing feedback during my work designing this simulation. Their Matrix Game Construction Kit, which my department kindly financed, was central to my game design as well. Our print service made up some nice maps and tokens for us too.
The scenario I run is drawn from my research. It is based on the 1929 riots in Palestine, also known as the “Buraq Revolt”. This was a major watershed for the Zionist-Palestinian conflict, as well as for British authorities who had ruled the country since the First World War. In August 1929, following nearly a yearlong campaign by both the Muslim and Jewish communities to arouse support for the defence of the Western or “wailing” wall in Jerusalem, communal violence broke out. Palestinians saw the moment as a popular revolt – the first effort since 1921 to resist British colonial policy which they feared would lead to their displacement by Jewish colonists. The Jewish community of Palestine saw this as a merciless attack by mobs against defenceless communities who had lived in Palestine long before the Zionist movement began to prepare for the rise of a Jewish state. Recent research has shown that it in fact strengthened ties between Zionist colonist institutions and those older non-Zionist Jewish communities.[i] The government was caught off-guard: most administrators and the chief of police were away on holiday. Investment in defence had declined for years, and the police were a tiny force of limited capability. The RAF – in charge of regional defence – were called in aid of the civil power to help quell the revolt. Understrength itself, it brought in troops from Egypt and Malta, as well as a battleship, cruiser and aircraft carrier. Within a week, 133 Jews had been killed, mainly by Palestinians, and 116 Palestinians were killed, mainly by British forces.
My simulation is set up with four or five teams: The Supreme Muslim Council, led by the grand mufti Amin al-Husayni, later notorious for his association with Nazi Germany. The Jewish community is represented by the dominant Labour Zionist party which controls nearly all national institutions – including secret militias. In some iterations of the game I have had a team for right wing “revisionist” Zionist party which played an antagonising role before the conflict although I have since removed them. Then there is the Air Officer Commanding, which controls the RAF, Transjordan frontier force, regional intelligence collection units, and if needed, reserves from abroad. Finally, and lastly in the order of play, we have the Palestine Government, a British colonial government with no legislative arm which controls the police, its criminal investigation department, the post office and censor, and other arms of civil administration.
The simulation begins on the day which violence spilled over. The game simulates a crisis of colonial security amid popular uprising and communal violence. What makes my design a bit different is that teams propose both an “action”, as in a usual matrix game, and a “query” for their intelligence sources and informants. The latter looks different for each team, as they each have organised these quite differently and for varying purposes. None the less, queries could consist of questions decisionmakers might ask of their experts based on data they would already plausibly have, or they can task them for collection and analysis. The goal is for them to explore the relationship between intelligence and decision making, policy, and in some instances, tactics.
This scenario presents each team with a set of trade-off dilemmas. If the Jewish community fights back, their secret arms stores are exposed to British and Palestinian scrutiny. If they complain to the British or embarrass them, they risk alienating their main patrons. If the Muslim community overtly supports rioters and revolutionaries, they risk imprisonment, loss of their official jobs, or worse. If they fail to at least secretly support revolution, then they risk popular support amongst Palestinians. If the RAF appears too weak, its decade of “Air Control” could come to an end. If it cracks down too hard, it could damage British policy interests. The list goes on.
Historians tend to avoid counterfactuals. As a researcher, it is exciting to use this exercise to explore the utility of simulation as a means of thought experiment. I am not trying to prove that X could have happened in real life, but rather, to highlight the conditions and variables which were critical to the unfolding of the simulation, as compared to real life. In other words, I am curious: was there a way to prevent revolt or the declaration of an emergency? Could Palestinians have found a way to exploit the moment and bring an end to the Zionist policy? What historical forces stood in the way of each?
In the latest iteration of this simulation, I skipped the emergency phase of the scenario and instead focusing the students on the phase between the restoration of civil authority and the arrival from London of a commission of inquiry – so it was less focused on the map, armed forces, arms stores, and violence, and more focused on subterfuge and diplomacy as each team tried to create favourable conditions and collect supportive witnesses who might testify in front of the commission. Many also tried suppressing evidence which harmed their interests. I also had to reconfigure the teams accordingly. I have attached both briefings.
This has also made for an interesting mode of assessment. Originally, I had intended to assess the gameplay as a means of evaluating student analytic capability. Ie, since matrix games require convincing argument, I could reward students for their success in that process. However, this is hard to document. The rules for assessment in both UK higher ed, and at Brunel, mean that this would be a tricky thing to assess fairly and accurately, unless I record the entire eight-hour simulation.
So, I instead asked students to keep a game diary based on a template I provided. Before the simulation they meet in teams and plan their strategy and opening moves. The diary template asks them each turn to evaluate how their team is making decisions, sticking to policy & strategy, as well as to interpret the scenario as it unfolds. They have only their experience and my master narrative to draw-upon for this. They are told to keep their diaries secret until after the game.
After the game, they sit together and compare notes. As a group they create a brief reflection on their achievements and failures, noting specifically where intelligence impacted decisions, security, etc. Then, they are asked to present individual “After-Action Reports”. They share and compare perspectives here. They must compare and find areas of agreement and contradiction in their diaries. I ask them to identify what details they chose to record and ignore compared to their teammates, and to explain it. For example, how could it be that two to four of you sat through the same events on the same team, but produced such different accounts or interpretations of the game. Can this be explained as an analytic bias? Is it a matter of perspective? Or did you disagree about things like priorities, strategy? Etc. I have also asked them to identify the key conditions for success and failure.
Perhaps it would be most beneficial to illustrate the pedagogical value of the AAR by showing some student responses. In their AAR’s, students show off both their historical literacy and analytic skills as they reflect upon their contributions, successes, failures, and compare the narrative to true events. Some students give a cursory answer which dwells on my questions as though it were a list. However, the best and brightest offer some of the most interesting and sober accounts of self-reflection I have seen. They really reveal during this exercise who I would hire as an analyst. I note here in particular that women and especially women from racialised minority groups have shared some of the most important insights I have come across. For example:
I think some differences in our approaches as events may have sometimes been because of our ethnic and religious backgrounds. I found that I focused a lot on society and faith – highlighting the literacy rate of Palestinians [at that time], Friday prayers for Muslims (which was echoed by a team member who is from the Middle East) and giving suggestions about the capabilities of the Jewish groups on a Saturday given that it was their holy day, whereas others who may not be so religious and come from European backgrounds did not consider these factors initially. I think this was a strength in our group as we were able to give different approaches which the rest of our team may not have thought of, and this broadened our range of approaches.
Reflections like this show the importance of broadening the way we educate analysts. It needs to go beyond structured analytic techniques and other social-scientific skills. Students and future analysts must understand people, and how the world works. They need to be able to collaborate like this and feel confident to share this kind of perspective. This is another example from last year:
I recall one episode in the latter part of the game where [X] had a mathematical argument on the effect of one outcome. My interpretation of the game was closer to that of an art… I believe this difference is an outcome of our own backgrounds. [X] being an expert in cyber-security and myself being a military officer. We had relatively few disagreements on how to interpret, rather, we had to spend more time to find consensus on which actions which align with our strategy.
That example illustrates how students with varied experience and coming from different disciplines learnt to communicate and work well together. Another intelligence professional from the armed forces compared her professional experience with wargaming with the classroom exercise. She led the RAF team and had expected the government to declare an emergency early. Yet the government team did everything they could to prevent this outcome – holding out for days. She felt she had misled her team by planning for an early emergency. She also offered interesting criticism, saying that she expected adjudication to eliminate implausible orders and that, after some were allowed, her plans had been disrupted. I agreed, and this is perhaps one of the core challenges in running a historically-based scenario. The drive for realism is a major constraint on students’ creativity, but it is also necessary for the pedagogical design.
However, my favourite reflections tend to dwell on explanations for failure. This one comes from a team representing the Muslim community’s leadership, often accused in real life of planning the revolt.
Our intelligence queries became progressively more difficult to decide upon because of the state of emergency declared by the government. It meant that we were censored and persistently spied upon by the other players[’ characters] which meant that it was a struggle to [successfully draw results from our queries]. We therefore had to rely heavily on our movements instead… we ended up making poor decisions which put [us] at risk.
Here, the student is describing how, during the last day of the emergency, they ordered direct support for revolutionaries and rioters and exposed the Palestinian leadership to danger. Secrecy was vital to their long-term political survival. The students panicked but also failed to separate their interests as players (who knew the game was ending) from those of their characters (who had to live the rest of their lives). Thereby, they were more prone to risky decisions. Another student commented on the same situation:
I had nothing better to suggest so although I didn’t think it was a good idea, I went along with the move. I think this can be reflective of the craft of intelligence in real life scenarios. We encountered a large failure to due our approach to events under pressure. We were not vocal enough when we felt the move was not suitable and I think this scenario highlights that disagreements should be highlighted when dealing with intelligence matters and we should not just go along with everyone else.
However, even though they made stupid decisions in-game, this level of honesty and self-awareness earned them good grades. Analytic staff who can demonstrate this quality, I am confident, will be less prone to systematic error and bias. I think it is also worth highlighting here the value of exposing students to lessons like this in a scenario, before they are on the job. This requirement for self-reflection also makes for easy grading criteria: it clearly separates A’s from B’s.
Another student remarked: “my most significant personal takeaway is that there is no “winning “ and “losing”, just a trade-off of outcomes based on the available information you have and how you are going to use that to go forward. They added that although they hadn’t worked in intelligence, they were struggling in the module to understand the storied history of intelligence failure. They concluded that the simulation highlights the complexity of intelligence, its tendency to change rapidly, and for decisionmakers not to always be preoccupied with it. Previously, before our course, they struggled to understand how, “if you have all the information, how could you make strategic mistakes”? I doubt any of my students are still confused about that after this module, and especially the simulation.
Moving forward, I will try to address problems of scale with the game. We typically never complete the first phase of the scenario before our eight-hour allotment is complete. Some students have suggested short weekly adjudication sessions online, spread across the year to achieve that. I am also grappling with the glut of detail in the game briefings. Students remark that they are complex. I designed it from my own research so that the details are precise and accurate, and thereby it could offer as many realistic parameters as possible during simulation. However, this means that, for the students, the briefing materials are long and require lots of preparation and background reading compared to other assignments. So, I am looking for ways to simplify things, or even for new scenarios which are simpler.
I welcome your feedback and questions. I hope I have also been able to share something helpful from my teaching practice which has broader implications for intelligence education and pedagogy: That the simulation gives fodder for students to practice skills such as empathy (with their characters, and each other); as well as honest self-reflection and an appreciation for perspective. I’ve tried to teach them how historical and intelligence analysis overlap, including issues of sources, and an appreciation that bias is part of the analytic process. I think the scenario helps teach them how to spot such biases, and to grapple with them in a team setting.
Everyone at PAXsims is extremely pleased to report that Sally Davis has won yet another award for her work in promoting diversity and inclusion within the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) and professional wargaming more broadly, this time from the Chief Scientific Adviser of the UK Ministry of Defence.
We’re reliably informed, too, that Derby House Principles pins were in evidence in MoD Main Building during the event!
It has been a while since we posted one of these, but PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers. Aaron Danis, Oliver Resnick, and Philip Sabin suggested items for this latest edition.
There are relatively few individuals within the United States government who understand how, for example, Napoleon used the strategy of the central position in the Hundred Days campaign. Nevertheless, there is almost no one who would not understand, “It’s fourth and ten—we have to punt.”
The games we play represent our first, and arguably our most important, strategic language. Sports games such as American football, soccer, or basketball, tabletop games such as chess or go, and even video games such as Starcraft or League of Legendsprovide a common, implicitly learned language of strategy. This language channels strategic thinking while facilitating communication. These games not only influence the strategic planning of countries but also of important world leaders. Just as it is possible, for example, to see elements of American football in US strategic thinking, it is also possible to see the fundamental premises of judo, Vladimir Putin’s sport, in Russia’s efforts to use its opponents’ strengths against them.
It is, of course, possible to overextend this insight. Games are certainly not the only influence on a culture’s, a country’s, or a person’s strategic thinking. History, education, economics, politics, as well as the broader context of the situation play a role. That said, games, despite their obvious influence, have historically been underexamined as both an inspiration and a catalyst for strategic thought.
Sports and games played and enjoyed over a lifetime undoubtedly influence the strategic thinking of individuals. To the extent that these activities are well-known or widely played, they also arguably influence the way national security decision makers think and act when making strategic decisions. Perhaps most importantly, however, these sports and games create the language with which senior leaders can better communicate their plans and intentions to fellow citizens. While the exact nature of these connections is clearly a subject for future studies, such studies will likely shed light on the wide range of influence the implicitly learned lessons of games continue to have on the strategic thinking of leaders across the globe.
War games and crisis simulations are exercises where participants make decisions to simulate real-world behavior. In the field of international security, games are frequently used to study how actors make decisions during conflict, but they can also be used to model human behavior in countless other scenarios.
War games take place in a “structured-unstructured environment,” according to Benjamin Harris, PhD student in the Department of Political Science and a convener of the MIT Wargaming Working Group at the Center for International Studies (CIS).
This means that the games operate at two levels — an overarching structure conditions what kind of moves players can make, but interactions among team members are unstructured. As a result, people with different backgrounds are forced to engage and learn from each other throughout the simulation. “The game goes where the participants take it,” says Harris.
MIT researchers have been developing the craft of war gaming since the late 1950s. In “The Pioneering Role of CIS in American War Gaming,” Reid Pauly PhD ’19, assistant professor at Brown University and a CIS research affiliate, credits the origins of modern war-gaming methodology in large part to MIT professor Lincoln Bloomfield and other faculty affiliated with CIS.
Today, CIS is again at the center of new developments in the methodology, pedagogy, and application of war gaming. Over the last few years, CIS and the MIT Security Studies Program have responded to an increased demand for war gaming among students and from the policy community. This has resulted in new course offerings, student and faculty-produced research, and on-campus simulations.
PhD student Suzanne Freeman and Harris started the Wargaming Working Group as a forum for students to engage with the war-gaming community on campus and in policy spaces. Now in its third year, the group has developed a partnership with the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) that brings mid-career military officers and academics together for an annual simulation.
Richard Samuels, Ford International Professor of Political Science and director of CIS, participated in his first crisis simulation in a game organized by Bloomfield, and subsequently organized nearly a dozen large-scale games at MIT in the 1990s through the early 2000s, most focused on Asia-Pacific security dynamics. Eric Heginbotham PhD ’04, a principal research scientist at CIS, and Christopher Twomey PhD ’05, were active participants. Together, they established the working group’s partnership with NPS, where Twomey is associate professor.
This year, participants worked through a crisis scenario centered on a nuclear reactor meltdown in Taiwan. Teams were assigned to represent Taiwan, China, the United States, and Japan, and the game was designed to tease out how civilian and military sub-teams would communicate during a crisis. Freeman and Harris presented some of the findings from the war game at Georgetown University in October 2021.
In addition to planning tabletop exercises at MIT, the working group invites speakers from universities and think tanks to present war-gaming research, and held online war games when MIT went virtual due to Covid-19. The working group has been especially successful at bridging the gap between academia and policy, allowing for PhD students and military officers to learn from each other, says Freeman.
For students hoping to further explore the history and practice of war gaming in a classroom setting, MIT now offers “Simulating Global Dynamics and War,” co-taught biennially by Samuels and Heginbotham. Students participate in four war games over the course of the semester — an operational war game, political-military crisis game, experimental game, and a game designed by students as their final project.
While the class is designed for security studies students and military fellows, it has included students and practitioners from other fields interested in incorporating gaming into their work. Lessons from the course can be applied to issues such as a global pandemic or refugee crisis, says Heginbotham.
For MIT undergraduates taking coursework in political science, war gaming is also a pedagogical tool used to consider the implications of policy decisions. In fall 2021, students in Erik Lin-Greenberg’s National Security Policy class participated in a simulation centered around a cyberattack on U.S. soil. Students worked in teams to represent U.S. government agencies at a National Security Council Principals Committee meeting. Lin-Greenberg is assistant professor of political science at MIT.
The Patterson School of Diplomacy at the University of Kentucky held a crisis simulation in February, set in Venezuela. You’ll find details on that here.
The O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University has started running national security simulations for its undergraduate students. You can read about it here.
Here and here Bryan Alexander discusses using university simulation game in a graduate seminar.
During the first week of March, as the eyes of the world were on the valiant defenders of Ukraine, officers at the Army War College in Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania were fighting a war in Asia — admittedly, while keeping close watch on the war in Ukraine as well. Their mission: prevent the People’s Republic of China from gaining control of the South China Sea.
Well, that was the mission of half of the staff groups; the others, portraying China, were tasked to seize control of the South China Sea. Seminars composed of some fifteen officers compete against the seminar next door; the one we, the faculty teaching team, watched and mentored included a majority of active duty Army officers but also a Guardsman, a reserve JAG, two Air Force officers, a Marine, and a Department of the Army civilian, as well as allied officers from Montenegro, Nepal, and Pakistan. The opposing team portraying China had a roughly similar array of talent; most of the officers have about twenty years of service, including many with multiple combat tours in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The game, developed by Army officers Lt. Col. Derek Martin and Col. Chris Hossfeld of the Army War College, is carefully calibrated so that each side has a roughly equal chance of winning a pretend war over the critical piece of terrain known as the South China Sea, with game pieces that replicate weapons systems including advanced missiles, aircraft, ships, submarines, Marine and army ground and air defense units, and Special Operations Forces. The Navy has used this same scenario to test and develop its latest warfighting concept; while the Army War College has used war games to develop the warfighting and war-winning abilities of its students for many decades, this is the first time it has tried this particular game.
The big idea? Officers, and particularly generals, do not often get to “practice” warfare at the operational level. Senior officers are usually are thrust into warfare where the stakes are highest but their experience in actual combat at that level is at its lowest. This is a chance to exercise and improve their judgement in the application of military power to achieve national objectives in a joint and coalition setting against a thinking adversary where decisions have consequences.
To analyze gray zone escalation dynamics around Taiwan, the researchers adapted a tabletop exercise (TTX) format to conduct a conjoint experiment over the course of 20 crisis simulations during the Fall of 2021.41 In 10 treatments, U.S. players had access to long-term crisis options using military power. In 10 treatments, U.S. players only had access to more immediate military response options. The underlying scenario, summarized below, was held constant across the events and involved a standoff over the Kinmen Islands in 2027. The scenario posited that Chinese military, economic, and diplomatic pressure on Taiwan increased after the 2024 Taiwanese presidential election. By 2026, there are weekly major Chinese incursions into the island’s air defense identification zone, including fighters, nuclear-capable bombers, and antisubmarine warfare platforms. In the last three months, these activities have intensified through the operation of naval surface action groups and simulated military operations off the eastern coast of Taiwan. China has increased pressure on the Taiwanese Kinmen (10 km off the coast of mainland China) which Beijing seeks to claim jurisdiction over. Kinmen leaps into international news when in 2027 a gas pipeline explosion damages a nearby Chinese fishing vessel. Chinese media claims that the explosion resulted from an attack by Taiwanese separatists and uses it as an opportunity to expand its East China Sea air identification zone to cover the entirety of Kinmen. Simultaneously, China conducts large military exercises firing missiles into the East China Sea and simulating attack runs to the north and south of Taiwan while entering the Japanese airspace. As Japan deploys naval vessels in response, multiple countries warn the Kinmen crisis could spark a wider military confrontation with China. World stock markets drop 10 percent as funds shift to U.S. bonds and gold prices surge. Taiwan requests assistance, and the U.S. president is under increasing pressure to respond to this economic and military challenge.
It’s very well done—you will find the full report (together with a decription of the methodology) at the link above.
At The Futurist, Stephen Aguilar-Millan discusses the lessons to be learned from a recent Belt and Road Initiative policy game, Xi Turns West. You will also find a turn-by-turn account of the game at the website.
Given the complexity of the topic at hand, the CNAS Gaming Lab developed a strategy game to examine global semiconductor competition. Games provide a “safe to fail” environment, which is particularly conducive to examining poorly understood problems. Games also serve as powerful tools for establishing a shared understanding of a problem, given their collaborative and experiential format and ability to convene different communities. The Chips Are Down game enabled the CNAS team to learn more about the competition for semiconductors, while providing game participants with a shared understanding of the critical implications of the competition.
The Chips Are Down game produced critical insights into the nature of U.S.-China strategic competition and global competition for semiconductors, discussed in this report. This report first provides an overview of the game including its purpose, the scenario, and the game design. Next, it details four key insights derived from the game, examining their emergence during gameplay and their real-world implications. Lastly, it concludes with recommendations for overcoming a set of challenges stemming from these insights, aimed at improving the U.S. position in future strategic competition.
A recent episode of the #BruteCast podcast by the Krulak Center (Marine Corps University) featured a discussion by Emma Ashford, James “Pigeon” Fielder, Andrew Reddie, Damien O’Connell, and Sebastian J. Bae on rapid wargame prototyping for crises.
As part of our special focus on #Russia and #Ukraine, #TeamKrulak brought you our first panel event of 2022 with a unique group of individuals focusing on a unique topic. How does wargaming help when the problem is a rapidly unfolding crisis in a fluid environment, such as the Russian build-up near Ukraine, when an off-the-shelf option, or deliberately designed wargame, isn’t readily available? This is what our panel discussed, examining the challenges of rapidly developing a wargame framework for a dynamic crisis, the specific aspects of the crisis near Ukraine that decision-makers and policy framers would want to simulate, and different approaches for developing useful wargame options in such a scenario.
Amid this escalation, experts can spin out an infinite number of branching scenarios on how this might end. But scores of war games conducted for the U.S. and allied governments and my own experience as the U.S. national intelligence officer for Europe suggest that if we boil it down, there are really only two paths toward ending the war: one, continued escalation, potentially across the nuclear threshold; the other, a bitter peace imposed on a defeated Ukraine that will be extremely hard for the United States and many European allies to swallow.
For those who want to model the consequences of nuclear wepaons use in Europe or elsewhere, there is always NukeMap.
Garbage in, garbage out. We all know the idea but it’s possible the military has forgotten the maxim a few times in the past when designing wargames. WAR ROOM welcomes Bob Bradford and Fred Gellert to explain a few basic tenets that will ensure experiments and wargames yield valid and useful insights. It might seem simple but concepts like asking valid, measurable questions, developing testable hypotheses, and a well resourced, adaptive OPFOR are just a few points that will ensure the Army makes good choices about preparing for the future.
Interested in wargaming and intelligence analysis? Here’s a 1998 monograph by Jonathan Lockwood, and Donald J. Hanle that is now available online.
Recent news from Ukraine has brought into sharp focus the effects of Russia’s logistics, transport and supply chain management failures, one of which is the decision to double down and start massacring civilians, creating international strategic blowback. If one is going to wargame (or plan!) a war then the necessity of including an appropriate logistics model as part of the wargame has been confirmed by Russia.
Michael is looking for people interested in further building out the supply chain model, keeping it current each day as events progress, assisting with running the simulations and analyzing results, and who can comment on the strategic implications of what the simulations and performance indicators show. He’ll provide free SCM Globe accounts and training to anyone interested in participating. To participate contact Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The following report was written for PAXsims by Mark Dunkley. Mark Dunkley FSA is a Visiting Fellow at Cranfield University. He is an experienced archaeologist with research interests covering the exploitation of cultural heritage across the spectrum of conflict.
The weaponization of cultural heritage during armed conflict and across sub-threshold operations is a subject that has received little, if any, serious attention within the wargaming community. While the subject has appeared in an Arma 3 video game mission (where the fictional British Cultural Rescue Initiative recover works of art from armed looters) and cultural heritage vignettes have been injected into real-life military exercises by Blue Shield International, there appears to be no examples of wargaming cultural heritage for its own sake. It is into this space that the author developed a game as part of a wider Brief to the British Army’s Cultural Property Protection Unit in February 2022.
Defining Cultural Heritage
Cultural heritage comprises both tangible remains (such as historic buildings and archaeological artefacts) and intangible heritage (like rituals, customs and crafts). Together, they comprise the legacy of physical artefacts and intangible attributes of a group or society that are inherited from past generations, maintained in the present and bestowed for the benefit of future generations. Applying this through the lens of conflict allows heritage to relate to human terrain analysis, human security, and actions by State and Non-State actors. Within the operating environment, cultural heritage can be exploited by actors across different Defence postures and within sub-threshold operations to achieve military, information, political, economic and diplomatic advantage.
In October 2016, the UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights asserted that cultural heritage is a human rights issue which requires a human rights approach. Beyond safeguarding a cultural object or historic building, such an approach obliges actors to take into account the rights of individuals and populations in relation to them; it is impossible to separate a people’s cultural heritage from the people themselves and their rights. 
Why Wargame Cultural Heritage?
The exploitation of cultural heritage remains a tool of war; tangible and intangible heritage are closely interlinked and that attacks on one are usually accompanied by assaults on the other on a scale between culturecide and genocide. The exploitation of cultural heritage is therefore not a new phenomenon and conflict is rarely kind to art and antiquities. In the late nineteenth century, for example, Britain sent troops to wipe out the kingdom of Benin in West Africa following the imposition of customs duties on goods leaving the territory while Islamic State publicly destroyed parts of the Palmyra World Heritage complex in 2015. More recently in February 2022, Russian troops have been accused of burning-down a museum of local history and destroying a collection of folk art in Ivankiv, while an Iskander ballistic missile launched from Belarus reportedly destroyed a historic building in Chernihiv – both in Ukraine. It is therefore necessary to wargame the exploitation of cultural heritage (or at least factor-in relevant injects into other wargames) in order to understand how actions by State and Non-State actors could affect either the preservation or destruction of our collective past or a community’s identity – particularly in light of statements made above in relation to human security as well as the UNESCO Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (1954). 
Coming with a professional background in various aspects of cultural heritage, the game participants were divided into two teams and represented two independent ‘Red Forces’ acting unilaterally in the Eurasian and Asian theatres. In Eastern Europe, cultural heritage was to be considered in order to prise Latvia away from NATO enabling a Latvian gravitational pull towards Russian influence while in the Gulf of Thailand, the team playing China sought to exploit cultural heritage as a means to enable financial investment in Cambodia as part of the economic Belt and Road Initiative.
The teams were invited to consider how Russia and China might independently seek to exploit both tangible and intangible cultural heritage in order to gain advantage in the information space and devise a list of actions to be undertaken (Levers) and the intended consequences of such exploitation (Effects).
In order to rapidly orientate the players into the relevant geopolitical space, both teams were provided with an outline timeline of key historical events in Latvia and Cambodia, which was sourced from the online BBC Country Profiles, as well as summary information on each country’s natural resources, social demography and a list of World Heritage sites.
In order to introduce both jeopardy and competitiveness into the game scenario, a simple scoring mechanism was applied to each Lever and Effects in order to determine whether the mission intent was successful of not. Using a single six-sided dice, the following scoring was applied:
Throw 1 or 2 = Unsuccessful Effect = 0 points
Throw 3 or 4 = Partially successful Effect = 1 point
Clearly, the more Levers and Effects that each team developed, the greater the chance of winning.
Indicative Game Results – Levers and Effects
Both teams realised that the Levers and Effects that ‘Russia’ sought to undertake played into ideas of ethnic-Russian identity in Latvia, particularly as Latvian lands form an extension of the great plains of Russia. Latvia’s importance as a mediator between east and west was not lost on the game players for in 1710, the capture of Rīga afforded the tsar Peter the Great “a window on the west.” In the socio-economic space the polarization of cultural identification in terms of Latvian and Russian is primarily a rural-urban divide which allowed the game players to explore what this meant for the historic centre of Riga, now a World Heritage Site. From 1944, the Soviet occupation led to the loss of 250,000 Latvians through exile and death which led to consideration of monuments and memorials of ‘The Great Patriotic War’ being used as a vehicle for social division, along the lines of the Bronze Soldier of Tallinn.
For ‘China’, the teams were mindful of taking a much more diplomatic approach (as intent was underpinned by economic drivers). Here, the ‘China’ team overtly supported Cambodia’s claim against Thailand over disputed land near the Preah Vihear temple after its designation as a World Heritage Site in 2008, which stirred nationalist sentiment on both sides. While cultural identity also featured strongly, the gamers noted that the Chinese are particularly associated with urban areas. This led to consideration of investment in those urban areas which facilitated the development of military infrastructure. For example, as at 24 Jan 22, IMINT shows Chinese dredgers working at Ream Naval Base in an expansion that could open the way for Chinese warships to dock.
The object of the game was not to win. Rather, the aim was in the learning outcomes and for each team to consider how cultural heritage could be exploited in a competitive environment in order to enable a State to gain information advantage. Overall, the exercise demonstrated that the exploitation of cultural heritage can be wargamed to gain insight into potential courses of action, an activity that has relevance in the present Russian invasion of Ukraine.
 A recent estimate of the Chinese population is 100,000, although because of the numbers of Chinese who have historically lived in Cambodia, the numbers of persons with some Chinese blood, and Chinese cultural influence, the impact is much greater.
This current Winter 2022 term I am again teaching my POLI 452 (conflict simulation) undergradute course at McGill University, for what is the now the fifth year. The course examines not only wargaming, but also the design of serious games about other kinds of social and political conflict too. Last year I had to teach it online, because of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. This year teaching has been largely in person this term, although the first few weeks were online due to the Omicron wave of the pandemic and many of the related activities are still virtual.
The course is full again this year, with 38 students registered. It is a very diverse and dedicated group. Some are keen gamers, but most registered because of their interest in conflict and conflict resolution. A majority of the class (64%) are women.
As you’ll see from the syllabus, the course consists of lectures, “game labs” (where we meet in smaller groups to discuss student projects), and an array of additional activities that earn “simulation activity credits”. The primary course texts are Philip Sabin’s Simulating War, and the UK Ministry of Defence Wargaming Handbook, supplemented by other readings and videos.
I don’t run games in class time. Rather, students are expected to earn “simulation activity credits” by attending a variety of games, guest speakers, outside conferences, and other activities, or by playing certain games at home and submitting a review. We started off the term with the zombie apocalypse—a very unserious miniatures game of post-apocalyptic survival played via Zoom, adapted to a serious purpose. Teams of students were given a fictional amount of money to “buy” weapons, equipment and training before the game. They then did their very best to survive the undead hordes. After this, they discussed how the game outcomes might lead them to revise their initial purchases.
In other words, it was used as a fun introduction to acquisitions and force development wargaming, in which a game is used to explore how defence investments might be made and what the consequences might be of acquiring different capabilities.
So far this term I have also run several other games:
This weekend we will also be playing The Village, a Discord-based negotiation and political influence game about a fictional United Nations peacekeeping operation, also designed and run by Jim Wallman. In this case, POLI 452 students will be acting as the Control team for my POLI 450 (Peacebuilding) course. I also plan to offer Shores of Tripoli and AReckoning of Vultures (a matrix game) in a few weeks, and a few others.
There are several mid-term quizzes for the course and a final exam. However, the single largest graded component is their game design project, developed in a team of 3-4 students. There are eleven such projects this year, all but one of them manual games:
Ukraine War. This project was proposed before the current Russian invasion, and has proven very timely for obvious reasons. It will address regular military operations, the role of protest and insurgency (especially as Russia occupies the country), and the role of diplomacy and external support.
Seven Sino States, examining the “Warring States” period (c. 475 to 221 BCE) in ancient China .
Siege. This is a cooperative game about critical incident response. The game addresses hostage negotiation, tactical operations, and overall incident command, with different players responsible for each.
Finding Refuge. In this game of forced displacement, players will be individuals and families seeking safety during the Syrian civil war, whether as refugees or internally displaced persons.
The Camp is another game about refugees, but in this case focussing on the challenges of refugee camp management.
The Blitz: A Mother’s Perspective. Unlike the others, this is not a manual boardgame, but rather a digital narrative choice (“choose your own adventure”) game. It will explore how lived experiences during the WWII London Blitz were affected by class, gender, and other factors.
On the Ground Journalism will explore the challenges of journalism in a war zone.
Pandemic Prevention looks at national readiness and response to a major infectious disease outbreak.
Water You Doing? is another environmental game, in this case looking at the “tragedy of the commons” dynamics in a fictional case of several lakeside towns that must balance economic development with environmental consequences.
In addition to submitting a completed game at the end of the term, students will also be submitting a development diary detailing background research, the design process, playtesting, and the revisions made.
An interim progress report is due next week. When the course is over and the projects are submitted in April, I’ll post additional details on what they’ve all accomplished.
All the materials that we have for 1993 — 2021 are now loaded onto the Connections US Wargaming Conference Proceedings website. But a LOT of it is missing.
If you ever attended a Connections US Wargaming Conference or presented at one, please go through your garage, basement, attic etc. for old paper and CD copies of materials, even resurrect that old laptop you used to give a presentation, and email ConnectionsUSAProceedings@gmail.com to discuss how to get any materials you find to me.
Japan’s National Institute for Defense Studies (NIDS — the research arm and thinktank of Japan’s Ministry of Defense) held a preparatory meeting for the launch of “Connections Japan”, slated to for autumn this year. The meeting was opened by Professor Nobushige Takamizawa (a visiting professor at the University of Tokyo, former NIDS President, and ex-Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Permanent Representative of Japan to the Conference on Disarmament).
The following is an unofficial English translation of an article on this meeting that was carried by the Asagumo Shimbun Newspaper on February 17, 2022:
The National Institute for Defense Studies (NIDS), which is celebrating its 70th anniversary in August 2022, held a “Conference of Policy Simulation Experts” as part of the institute’s memorial programs on January 28. Masakazu Saito, President of NIDS, said in his opening remarks, “This conference is a preparatory meeting for the launch of “Connections Japan,” which would join the international network of the “Connections” conferences, slated for autumn this year.”
In the morning session, following the opening remarks, Nobushige Takamizawa, a visiting professor at the University of Tokyo and former NIDS President and ex-Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Permanent Representative of Japan to the Conference on Disarmament, delivered a keynote speech entitled “Policy Simulation: Background Issues and Their Changes.” Professor Takamizawa emphasized the importance of theme selection, scenario development, to execution effectiveness and pointed out further challenges to effective policy simulation including facilitator education and database construction. He concluded his speech by stressing the necessity of executing more imaginative policy simulations and of building overseas networks.
A second speaker was Tomonori Yoshizaki, Director of Policy Simulation at NIDS. He emphasized the significance of learning state-of-the art methods and of enhancing overseas networks of professionals through “Connections Japan.”
The third speaker was Hiroyasu Akutsu, Chief of Policy Simulation Office at NIDS. He described the history of Connections Conferences and how actively they have been held in the US, the UK, Australia, Canada, France and the Netherlands from their respective perspectives. He emphasized that it is important for Japan to prepare for “Connections Japan” from its own perspective.
In the afternoon session, Katsuya Yamamoto, Captain of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and Director of the Education Department at NIDS, explained the effectiveness of introducing policy simulation into the NIDS’ educational programs.
There are high expectations that this first-ever official conference among Ministry of Defense of Japan and Japan Self-Defense Forces policy simulation experts will further strengthen their internal connections and overseas networks.
We look forward to Connections Japan, and wish the organizers every success!
“The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is faced with the challenge of preparing for future warfare during peacetime as a force that lacks contemporary operational experience. Among the methods through which the PLA seeks to enhance its combat readiness are sophisticated wargaming and realistic, force-on-force exercises. Chinese military leaders regard wargaming (bingqi tuiyan, 兵棋推演) as an important technique by which to “learn warfare from the laboratory” for training purposes and to promote insights on the dynamics of future combat. This style of learning is complemented by the PLA’s study of military history and emulation of the experiences and innovations of foreign militaries, including through creating “blue forces” that simulate potential adversaries against which to train. Beyond improving its current capabilities and readiness, the PLA also aspires to achieve an edge in military competition, seeking to “design” the dynamics of and develop capabilities for future warfare.”
This fits with Matt Caffrey’s insights that wargaming provides an edge, and therefore we need to be better at wargaming than our adversaries.
BUT … We are missing many of the presentations. Please help! (for example, we are missing MOST of the materials for the 2019 Conference!)
If you gave a presentation, ran a panel or workshop, or provided any other kind of material to a Connections US conference please review the archive, and if your material is missing, and you would like it included, please use the upload link on the proceedings website.
A year after the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol, the United States seems perhaps even more alarmingly fractious and divided. Regrettably, the right has sustained its support for Donald Trump and continued its assault on American democratic norms.
The next national election will almost inevitably be viciously (perhaps violently) contested. It is fair to say that the right-wing threat to the United States — and its apparent goal of laying the groundwork for a power grab, if necessary, in 2024 — is politically existential.
Yet many Americans seem to be whistling past the graveyard of American democracy. In particular, there seems to have been little effort so far at think tanks, professional military institutions and universities to build and contemplate the dire scenarios that have become increasingly plausible. And the worst-case scenario is this: The United States as we know it could come apart at the seams.
The authors go on to suggest that scholars, think-tanks, and others need to devote more attention to this risk—in part, through gaming out possible futures:
It behooves us to prepare our defenses for the worst. Understandably, the policy focus is now on pre-empting a right-wing steal in the next national election. But success will depend crucially on factors that are beyond control — the midterm elections this year and the identity of the Republican candidate in 2024 — which suggest that focus is misplaced. And even if a steal is thwarted, success might not preclude a coercive challenge of the election results; quite to the contrary, it would provoke one.
War games, tabletop exercises, operations research, campaign analyses, conferences and seminars on the prospect of American political conflagration — including insurrection, secession, insurgency and civil war — should be proceeding at a higher tempo and intensity. Scholars of American politics need to pick up the torch from experts on the democratic decline in Europe, who first raised the alarm about growing dangers to American politics. The very process of intellectual interaction and collaboration among influential analysts of different political stripes could reconcile many of them to the undesirability of political upheaval and thus decrease its likelihood. (emphasis added)
First, is the risk of democratic decline and “civil war” substantial enough to game, or is it simply a partisan talking point?
Second, how well do gaming techniques allow you to explore this?
Certainly, an alarming proportion of Americans feel that a future US civil war is possible, and the topic has frequently shown up in op eds, books, and elsewhere over the past year. Putting my political scientist hat on, I think the risk of civil war in the US is vanishingly small, certainly in the next decade. Sure, there are several “what if?” games in the hobby sector that allow you to fight one, but none of those scenarios seem to me to be at all plausible.
However, the risk of democratic decline is very, very real. The nonpartisan US think tank Freedom House reports that around the world, democracy is in retreat—including, notably, in the United States.
In the Polity5 dataset—one of the quantitative indices most used by social scientists around the world—the US “democracy” variable had stood at a full 10 since the mid-1970s, but fell to 8 in 2016, and 5 by 2020.
While much attention has been focused on the January 6 insurrection/protests, developments such as political polarization, low public trust in government, widespread gerrymandering, and the partisan manipulation of electoral laws and procedures represent far greater structural threats.
Coming at a time when authoritarian China is a rapidly-growing global superpower (with an overall economy that could overtake the US within a decade), the implications of democratic deterioration in America extend far beyond the shores of the United States.
However, while potential crisis points like the 2020 election provide a clear focus for gaming techniques, a gradual, longer-term shift in US politics to something more closely resembling Viktor Orban’s Hungary—an EU member state that Freedom House now only rates as “partly free”—is rather more subtle and difficult to game, I think. Similarly, I don’t think the international implications of declining US democracy would necessarily lend themselves well to gaming, since so much depends on the ideological and political characteristics of the authoritarian populist leader in power. Moreover, while academics and think-tanks are free to game such things, it would be enormously sensitive—probably, too sensitive— for any Western government to do so, regardless of the security classification one might put on the game.
A short game on longer-term democracy trends could be very useful as a spark to a subsequent, substantial discussion. However, as structured analytical techniques go, I think you would get more out of scenario discussions, alternatives futures exercises, and similar methods.