PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Category Archives: simulation and gaming news

"Exploit Small Group Dynamics During Analysis to Support the Decision You Want"

I gave the above keynote speech to the 13th NATO Operations Research and Analysis Conference last October, in which I described an “analysis process design” game as a thought experiment about how pathologies of small group discussions can be deliberately used to distort decisions following analysis. The thought experiment game can be applied I suspect to any process, including wargames, that includes small group discussions. The paper is downloadable from:
https://www.sto.nato.int/publications/STO%20Meeting%20Proceedings/STO-MP-SAS-OCS-ORA-2019/$MP-SAS-OCS-ORA-2019-KN-04.pdf

2019 PAXsims readers’ survey results

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The results of our 2019 PAXsims reader’s survey are now in. Many thanks to those who took the time to answer our questions.

Half (51.2%) of respondents report that they visit PAXsims daily or weekly, while 52.5% report that they visit monthly. Only 6.3% visit less frequently.

Most of our readers are middle-aged and—overwhelmingly—male. We are only reaching a much smaller proportion of those in their teens or twenties who might be interested in, or entering, the field of serious gaming.

Age Percentage
1-17 0.6%
18-25 4.8%
26-35 14.3%
36-64 70.8%
65 or older 9.5%

Although the proportion of non-male readers has increased since our last survey a few years ago (when it was a mere 1%), there’s still much room for improvement. Women make up half of my POLI 452 (Conflict Simulation) course at McGill this term, so there’s no shortage of women interested in the topic. However, this demographic is not particularly accessible through the 98% male wargaming hobby, which has often been rather unwelcoming. Instead, an interest in gaming as social science or policy analysis might be the better hook to introduce a new and more diverse generation to the art and science of serious gaming.

Gender Percentage
Male 93.9%
Female 4.3%
Non-binary/other 1.8%

We wll be further discussing this issue of “expanding the community” at this year’s Connections North interdisciplinary wargaming conference in Montréal on 15 February 2020.

In terms of occupation, about a quarter of our readers are in education (as teachers or students), and another quarter are in or directly support the military.

Occupation Percentage
Educator (post-secondary) 16.3%
Educator (K-12) 3.1%
Students (post-secondary) 3.6%
Students (K-12) 0.5%
Military (active/reserve) 11.7%
Military (contractor) 11.2%
Intelligence community 3.6%
Diplomacy 0.5%
Other government employees 8.2%
Humanitarian assistance/development 1.5%
Journalism 1.5%
Professional game designers 12.2%
Other 26.0%

A majority of out visitors seem to be hobby gamers, as well as serious gamers. Slightly more use serious games for education/training compared to analysis.

  Use serious games for education. Use serious games for analysis. Play games for fun.
Often 29.6% 20.0% 57.9%
Sometimes 36.5% 31.6% 33.3%
Rarely 19.5% 27.7% 8.8%
Never 14.5% 20.7% 0%

Slightly over half of respondents (51%) prefer manual games, 11% prefer digital games, and the remainder like both equally (38%).

Among gaming conference attended, hobby gaming conferences come first, followed by the various Connections professional wargaming conferences, and the Military Operations Research Society annual symposium. I/ITSEC and the major social science academic conferences place lower.

Finally, what our readers you like to see more of? Pretty much what we have been doing, it seems. In order of popularity:

  1. professional wargaming
  2. teaching with games and simulations
  3. other serious games
  4. professional development
  5. gaming hobby
  6. game reviews
  7. not-so-serious gaming articles

And so it is, onwards into 2020!

PAXsims year-end review 2019

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As I write this 2020 is almost upon us—so I thought it would be a good time to summarize the past year here at PAXsims.

Most notable of all, we had our best year ever, with 120,666 visits from from 64,168 visitors. This is slightly higher than last year’s total of 119,623 visits. We also currently have 488 email and WordPress subscribers.

Overall, PAXsims has have had a remarkable 823,427 page visits since 2009. At this rate we should reach the one million mark in a year and a half or so.

We had visitors from 188 countries and territories in 2019—almost the entire world. As usual, the US accounts for by far the largest share of our readers:

  1. United States 43.0%
  2. United Kingdom 12.7%
  3. Canada 9.4%
  4. Netherlands 3.1%
  5. China +Hong Kong 3.9%
  6. Australia 2.7%
  7. Germany 2.3%
  8. France 2.3%
  9. Japan 1.8%
  10. Italy 1.7%

The rise of China in our reader statistics is noteworthy. By contrast, Russia only accounts for 0.3% of visitors.

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We posted 148 new items in 2018. The five most popular of these were:

  1. AFTERSHOCK(S)
  2. Lacey: Teaching operational maneuver
  3. Matt Caffrey’s “On Wargaming” available as free download

  4. Room to game (or, the Battle of Winterfell explained)

  5. A “horrible, one-sided deal”: A US-Iran matrix game

Our most popular piece of all time is—quite rightly—The wargaming Wrens of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit.

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Brian Train retains his lifetime achievement award as our most prolific commentator on articles.

Tomorrow we will summarize the results of out 2019 reader survey, with further insight into who you all are, what you all do, and what you would like to see from us in 2020. Happy New Year!

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Review: Longley-Brown, Successful Professional Wargames (2019)

The following review was contributed to PAXsims by Ben Taylor.


Graham Longley-Brown, Successful Professional Wargames; A Practitioner’s Handbook (History of Wargaming Project, 2019). £21.95 paperback. Kindle version also available.

This book is a valuable addition to the professional wargamer’s library. If this was just a compendium of the best practices from the viewpoint of Graham Longley-Brown, master wargamer, driving force behind the Connections UK conference and all-round good egg, then it would be a worthwhile investment. This book is actually far more than that.

SPWcoverThe book was written in parallel to the UK MOD’s Defence Wargaming Handbook (reviewed on PAXsims here) with the intention of providing an expanded practitioner’ guide to those tasked with actually designing and delivering games. Wargaming stakeholders who need to know what a wargame is and why they should want one only need the shorter volume. For those tasked with putting the message into practice this new volume rehearses similar ideas and arguments but with more detailed thoughts and copious practical guidance. This common alignment is important because if your boss has a copy of the Wargaming Handbook and is looking motivated to get some wargaming done, then there is nothing in the Practitioner’s Handbook will contradict anything that the boss is expecting!

While Graham Longley-Brown has many years of experience in wargaming with the British military he took the decision to not limit his new book to his own perspectives and ideas. A supporting cast of experts have been included, each making niche contributions. The guest list reads like a who’s who of the core community that the Connections UK meetings are built around. Indeed PAXsims had to really scrape the bottom of the barrel to find a reviewer who was not a contributing author to this volume.

The book is divided into four parts. These address in turn wargaming fundamentals, the conditions for successful wargames, the wargame development lifecycle and practicing successful wargames.  In short these combine to illustrate the why, what and how of modern professional wargames. This is very much a resource to dip into, rather than to read cover-to-cover. At over 450 pages there is an awful lot of detail but it is very well structured and set out so that the reader can dive into any section and glean useful advice in support of their own efforts. That said, I did find the layout a little confusing in paces. In some areas there are lots of subheadings, quotes and inset verbatim text from the Wargaming Handbook which make the document feel a little fractured. In addition the guest contributors have contributed a mix of stand-alone paragraphs or chapters-within-chapters which contribute to the sense of fragmentation. Taken as a whole the book is an excellent resource, even if opening to a page at random can sometimes be a bit confusing. Starting at the beginning of a section and reading through the advice that Graham and his guest contributors have assembled on a topic in sequence is definitely the way to go.

In conclusion, this book captures very well the state of the art in professional military wargaming in the UK. If you are interested in designing or running smaller-scale games and/or games outside of the military environment then some elements of the book may be of less immediate value. This is after all the handbook for professionals running professional games.  That said, whatever kind of game you design or play you can’t fail to find something insightful and inspiring in this book.

Ben Taylor

 


 

UPDATE. Graham Longley-Brown sent on some comments, which I’ve appended to the review so everyone is sure to see them.

Hi Ben, and thank you for your kind words. I’d like to add a comment and make an offer to anyone wondering whether to buy the book.

First, although the book is inevitably written from my UK perspective, I’ve done all I can to include contributions from around the world, so I’d push back slightly at the implication that the book offers a UK-centric view. Indeed, all contributed chapters were from US folk and a Canadian (Rex 😊). Many of the points I make are indeed sourced from Connections UK, but that conference encompasses a truly international family. I attribute comments where I can, but much else of what I consider to be best practice I have picked up from fantastic international speakers at Connections UK and elsewhere.

Second, I agree wholeheartedly that the book should be dipped in to, but chapters read from their beginning. Respecting all the different perspectives offered by contributors and advice from reviewers and commentators led to a large amount of sometimes overlapping information that could be difficult to prise apart. If anyone asks, I will gladly send them the mind maps I used to structure the overall book and each chapter (or post them here if Rex thinks that appropriate). These show the contents and structure of each chapter at a glance, as you can see below.Contents v7.7.jpg

Chapter 2. What is a wargame.jpg

Finally, thanks to Ben and Rex for making the – considerable! – time to review the book. Successful Professional Wargames is an attempt to spread best practice and stimulate debate, so it’s great to see it on PAXsims, which is so effective in doing the same thing.


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WotR podcast: The (war)games we play

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The latest War on the Rocks podcast features Ellie Bartels, ED McGrady, and Peter Perla discussing—what else?—wargaming. You’ll find it here.

If you read War on the Rocks, you’ve noticed there’s a lively debate over the state of wargaming in the Department of Defense. After senior leaders pushed for a renewed emphasis on wargaming several years ago, are these games any good? Are they doing what they need to be doing for the U.S. military? If not, who is at fault — the gaming community or the customers sitting in the five-sided building? To tackle these questions and more, we gathered a gifted group of gamesome and gallant gamers. Join Ryan’s conversation with Ellie Bartels, ED McGrady, and Peter Perla.


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Invicta: How Did Wargaming Shape the War in the Pacific?

The Invicta YouTube channel posted another excellent video on wargaming last month, this time focusing on the impact of wargaming on WWII in the Pacific theatre.

In this interview, US Naval War College Museum Curator, Rob Doane, talks us through the naval history of wargaming in the 20th century. We begin by discussing US navy planning in the lead up to war which includes the eventual rainbow plan and war plan orange. We then look at how wargaming influenced naval warfare from the strategic to the tactical level. These impacted battles like Pearl Harbor, Midway, and the Island Hopping campaign across the Pacific. Finally we discuss the specifics of US vs Japan naval wargaming conducted by both the US Navy and the Japanese Navy.

They’ve since followed up with a couple of other Midway-themed videos, including one in which wargame designer Pete Pellegrino discuses the history of War Plan Orange and the role of the USNWC and Naval Wargaming.


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Connections US Wargaming Conference 2019 Proceedings

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The Proceedings of the 2019 Connections US Wargaming Conference is now available thanks to Mark Leno, Wargame Analyst, Department of Strategic Wargaming at the US Army War College.

Russian “multimedia combined arms training”

The following item has been provided to PAXsims by our roving correspondent, Tim Price.


 

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I was sent a fascinating insight into Russian training methods, shown on the Russian MOD Website, as well as: https://sdelanounas.ru/blogs/127374 The Commentary reads: “A unique multimedia training complex has been created in the Far Eastern VOKU”

In the Far Eastern Higher Combined Arms Command School, a unique training complex for managing units in modern combined arms combat has been created. It is made in the form of a multimedia layout of the area, turning into a three-dimensional image, on which cadets practice situational tasks.

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Classes are organized as part of platoons, where each cadet, in the role of commander, makes a decision in the current situation depicted on the display and, giving instructions to subordinates and attached forces in the position of other cadets, manages the battle. Moreover, each cadet is in a mobile isolated simulator, receives commands through a radio station and independently acts as a specific official of a motorized rifle company.

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The complex allows future commanders in the class to work out all the main types of tactical actions using unmanned aircraft, the latest reconnaissance, communications, artillery and other forces, and the means used in modern combat.

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The creation of the complex and situational tasks was carried out by the best teachers in the framework of rationalization work. It embodied the analysis of modern military conflicts and some issues of the development of military tactics of the future.”

Translation courtesy of Google Translate. Additional photographs and details are contained here. The rather odd looking red curved shapes in the foreground of the terrain map are cut-outs of the Russian map symbols for a tank platoon deployed in the advance. There is a rough guide to Soviet map marking from The Nugget:

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In the comments section several commentators said “All that is new, is that which is old, forgotten

 

How wargames work and their importance by Paul Vebber

Listen to Paul Vebber, assistant director of wargaming and future warfare research at Naval Undersea Warfare Center Headquarters, discussing how wargames work and their importance to the Warfare Centers, Naval Sea Systems Command and the Navy:

How an opponent wargames is an intelligence collection requirement

In June of this year Mercyhurst University’s Ridge College of Intelligence Studies and Applied Sciences held its first “Intelligence Community Forum” focused on Intelligence support for decision makers (https://mercyhurst.edu/icf). At that conference I presented the argument that “How an opponent wargames is an intelligence collection requirement” available online.

The abstract reads:

The answer to “How does an opponent wargame?” supports decision makers when deterring, preempting or reacting to conflict. How opponent decision makers wargame during peacetime, i.e. the methods, techniques and styles of gaming used and the beliefs and psychological biases of the players, gives us insight into how opponent decision makers might operate during conflict. This is in addition to the scenarios, systems and concepts they game which one can credibly infer from the political, economic and military environments. Since studying the performance of individual decision makers during real life planning and conflict tells us something about how those decision makers might behave in future conflicts, then how they behave during wargames might tell us something about how they would perform during the future conflict that they are currently wargaming. Therefore studying the wargaming approaches of an opponent or ally and the wargame performance of selected military and political leaders should be an intelligence collection requirement. In this presentation I propose an analytic framework for answering the wargame intelligence question based on the Purpose of the Wargame and the Characteristics of the Wargamers for each identified opponent group, and propose methods for avoiding such collection on oneself.

Let’s see more wargamers at next year’s Intelligence Community Forum  on June 16–18, 2020, Mercyhurst University, Erie, PA!


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New wargaming book hits the shelves

It’s been a good year for wargaming books.

First was Matt Caffrey’s On Wargaming: How Wargames Have Shaped History and How They May Shape the Future available as a free download from the US Navy College Press

Now we have from the other side of the Atlantic Graham Longley-Brown’s Successful Professional Wargames; A Practitioner’s Handbook, published by the History of Wargaming Project. There is also a Kindle version available from Amazon.


Please take a minute to complete our PAXsims reader survey.

 

Low-Tech War Games Inform High-Tech Decisions

Interesting program using wargaming to educate engineers, scientists, and logisticians in the realities of operational planning to increase their ability to meet the US Navy’s strategic goals. See the report here.

Rolling dice and moving game pieces might not seem relevant to 21st century warfare, but Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) is finding this low-tech means of war gaming has the potential to provide increased agility in the high stakes competition of high technology.

War games have been used throughout history to help operational and logistical leaders develop critical thinking and planning skills, determine possible outcomes and keep warfighters proficient in the use of their weapons systems.

The current battle raging across the Pacific Ocean on the tabletop map set up at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division, Keyport is not being run by admirals. Instead, engineers, logisticians and even Navy Acquisition Development Program (NADP) entry-level employees are fighting the game in order to expose them to the operational and logistical requirements of the warfighters who will be on the front lines in a real conflict.

Gaming news, making news

The follow report has been written for PAXsims by Tristian Martinez. Picture credits:  Tristian Martinez (Jakarta Peacegame) and Dr. Lindsay Grace (others).


 

Scores of immigrants begin a thousand-mile trek from Mexico City to the Texas border.  A fantasy adventuring party is wiped after resolving to use plurality voting to guide combat decisions.  An anthropomorphized uterus rafts down a river of blood to a heavy metal soundtrack, lifting taboos against menstruation.  In 24 hours, these games and more were designed at the Newsjam, held jointly at the American University Game Lab and the University of Miami School of Communication.

Newsjams iterate on hackathons and gamejams, promoting games with calls for social impact as viable journalism.  Topics are left to the participant’s discretion, and digital toys, scripted interactables, and games are all encouraged.  Organizers Lindsay Grace, Andy Phelps, Lien Tran, and Clay Ewing are all veteran game designers with a talent for creating serious games that drive positive change.  Their participants are young (mostly undergrad and graduate students), socially conscious, and diverse.  Together, they represent a part of the future of serious games.

The Newsjam gathered nearly 30 designers to explore the “intersection of news, games, and community,” by “connecting people with the news and empowering citizen reporters.”  Issues of local concern like decaying Washington DC infrastructure and rolled back promises of Canadian electoral reform lept from experiences to interactive media as Dr. Ben Stoke, co-founder of Games for Change, encouraged participants to draw inspiration from innovations and subjects in local news.  Dr. Lindsay Grace followed with a crash course in rapid prototyping, advising participants to

  • Use small concepts driven by big ideas
  • Take risks and not aim for perfection
  • Tack on 30% more time to estimates
  • Discard broken elements
  • Focus on core gameplay/experience first
  • Focus on efforts with high impact/low investment
  • Use the development cycle
  • Efficiently use time by taking breaks, commenting on work, saving frequently, creating multiple versions, and reusing assets
  • Reward themselves afterward
  • Remember the 24-hour time period
  • Choose a topic that won’t lose relevance
  • Ensure that the project playfully engages audiences

Dr. Andy Phelps of the American University Game Lab delivered finishing remarks, encouraging experiential learning, engagement, and warning participants against using text-based information delivery.

Throughout the night, participants worked to design and test prototypes of their games.  Tension filled the morning; one team ran through 7 failed prototypes before splitting into mutually supportive groups at 3:00 AM to pursue related designs.  Another team started off strong and worked through the night, only to be interrupted by a game-ending bug that took 2 hours to identify and undid 4 hours of effort.  A third team, consisting of a single programmer, finished their code with only an hour to spare.

Many participants at the DC location expressed satisfaction with their product, and multiple projects were proudly published online and added to portfolios.  Unfortunately, the facilities and organizers were heavily geared to digital design, with little support for analog games.  Additionally, at the DC location, AU students were not integrated with unaffiliated participants, creating a university/town divide.  However, the demonstration of design skills and opportunity for development indicate a strong future for serious gaming, and a potential new audience for the readers and community of PAXsims.


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The Future of Wargaming: Brain Probes, Crocodile Clips and Drugs

I was recently asked by Ed McGrady to create an outline for a story about the future of wargaming (not to be confused with wargaming the future) as part of his working group on the subject. So, here is my outline for a science fiction story about the future of wargaming. I believe there is much to be gained from expanding the boundaries of wargame player manipulation, specifically the effects that directly manipulating players’ brains using electrical stimulation and drugs can have on game play and analysis.

The term “science fiction story” has three parts; “science”, “fiction” and “story”. In this short outline the fiction is underpinned by credible modern science. It remains to be seen if the “fiction” becomes fact. Given that my proposed future science of brain manipulation for game purposes is a credible forecast from current research, I suspect it will. I have not added references to current research results to this short piece, you can find those in my other writings.

The Motive

People playing a game know the game is not real life, and we know from psychology and social science research that decisions they make during the game are influenced by this knowledge. We also know from psychology and social science research that a risky shift and dishonesty shift occur during group discussions that take place during both games and real-life decision making. Players’ critical faculties generated by their frontal lobes take into account the conscious knowledge “this is a game” and are influenced subconsciously by the two shifts. Therefore we have a problem using decisions made during a game as proxies or predictors for decisions the same players would make during the real-world situation the game is exploring.

The “science” part of the “science fiction story”

When dreaming (during REM sleep) blood flows to the cortex (which provides content) and the limbic system (which processes emotions) both of which light up. However the frontal lobes (which direct our critical faculties) remains quiet. The result is that we usually accept the content and emotions of a dream (during it) no matter how weird.

Anesthesia research shows that anesthetics make us “unconscious” by disconnecting different parts of the brain’s macro-systems from each other, thus breaking the brain-wide integration that current research claims leads of self-awareness. Some anesthetics leave the person aware of the pain but experiencing a rolling amnesia – they feel the pain of the surgery but forget that fact from moment to moment.

Medical research shows that people with damage to their emotional response system, of the kind that results in them not experiencing emotions, have difficulty making decisions even when they are smart enough to know the answer and it is objectivity important for them to do so. They lack the motive to make the decision. Star Trek and Conan Doyle got it wrong with Spock and Sherlock.

Herodotus tells us that the ancient Persians made important decisions after they had discussed the situation twice, once sober and once drunk, presumably in an attempt to analyse situations both critically (while sober) and emotionally (while drunk). I don’t know for sure, but I would assume the order of the two sessions might have an effect. I will have to experiment and report back to you later.

The “fiction” part of the “science fiction story”

We will develop techniques using anesthetics and electrical stimulation to selectively suppress the limbic system and frontal lobes in wakeful subjects, and using drugs to suppress or boost the body’s production of hormones related to stress and emotion.

From the credible science and realistic projection we can now propose the likely impact on wargame techniques in the future. We will game a topic with different parts of the players brains “switched off” or “switched on” depending on the phase of the game’s move. During those phases of each move that require analysis we will suppress the entire limbic system (brain and body). We can then explore totally rational analysis driven by the frontal lobe generated critical faculties of the players and in the absence of any emotional processing.

The problem here is the likely difficulty of getting emotionless people to make decisions when it is “decision time” in the game – for example when it is time to select a move or COA from a set that has been discussed and explored during the planning phases of the game’s moves. So, during the phases when the players are called on to make decisions, we will boost the limbic system to turn decision-making motivation back on. In other words we pulse the limbic systems of the players in phase with the tasks required during the game; suppress for analysis, boost for decision making.

Alternatively, taking a leaf out of the ancient Persian’s playbook, by simultaneously boosting the limbic system and suppressing the frontal lobes we can explore wildly off the wall ideas while completely suspending disbelief. We can also, by incrementally turning the limbic system up or down, explore decision making under different levels of emotion.

The “story” part of “science fiction story

How will such a world play out? When proven successful by the Military (and it will be), this technique will move into the mainstream and be used by any profession that involves both analysis and decision making by the same people about extremely important situations. For example by judges, doctors and surgeons, airline pilots, nuclear power plant operators, senior military officers in charge of our nuclear triad (this latter is exciting, you can see where this is going!) etc. Given humanity’s desire for silver bullets, the techniques develop and proliferate rapidly and are embedded in all critical areas of the global system before the downsides are discovered (of course, why change the habits of many lifetimes?) The intellectual elites of society who combine analysis and decision-making powers over the rest of us start suffering debilitating psychoses and hallucinations caused by the technique’s interference in their brains and sleep patterns. The world descends into chaos as the senior leaders, decision makers and analysts in our legislature, judiciary, medical facilities, military etc. cycle between manic depression and emotionless psychopaths.

Conclusion

Given the history of using drugs and electrodes to experiment on people’s minds I suspect the above outline is a realistic projection of implementation by governments, business and academia. The possible benefits that result from widespread successful implementation are so great that such implementation will certainly occur despite the possible downsides explored by the story.


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KWN: Building the future of wargaming

The Wargaming Network at King’s College London has a series of events planned for November. Details below.

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