Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Category Archives: simulation and gaming news

USA Fight Club

The purpose of the US Fight Club is to provide a venue that supports training, educating and the development of the next generation of hobby and professional wargamers, across all echelons, disciplines and communities. Our intent is to create an environment that is:

  • fun
  • voluntary
  • rank agnostic
  • flat (no authoritative hierarchy)
  • focuses on decision making, and dealing with the impact of the decision
  • includes tactical, operational and strategic games/competitions
  • encourage ‘wrong’ thinking (a belief or opinion that run contrary to the prevailing thought)

Past / Current Events

In October, the club ran a day long Battle for Moscow tournament, with the support of the US Army Command and General Staff College’s directorate of simulation education. This month, the club was invited to participate in a Last Hundred Yards ladder tournament. This is a perpetual event sponsored by Mike Denson, the creator of The Last Hundred Yards.

Upcoming Events

After the holidays, the club will sponsor a Battle Academy 2 tournament as well as a Black sea grey zone competition (matrix wargame). Dates and coordinating instructions are in final development and will be posted to the fight club website before mid-December 2021.

For more information, see the USA Fight Club website.

Jeff Hodges, USA Fight Club

Hungarian Warfare and Serious Games Conference

Opening speech by Brigadier General Dr. Árpád Pohl, Dean of the Faculty of Military Sciences and Military Training
(photo: Dénes Szilágyi; source: )

Our colleague Major Zoltán Harangi-Tóth recently organized the Hungarian professional wargaming conference “Warfare and Serious Games 2021” held October 5th at the Department of Military History of the National Civil Service University, Budapest.

Click here for Zoltán’s excellent report.

Although Google’s translation leaves much to be desired, it is good enough to understand the content of the conference and appreciate the conference’s important contributions to Wargaming. I look forward to next years’ conference!

A crest comes home

In addition to recently obtaining a U-Boat, the Western Approaches HQ museum in Liverpool has obtained a unique piece of wargaming history—the crest that once adorned the door of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit.

‘Third Nuclear Age’ project endorses the Derby House Principles

We are pleased to announce another research project has endorsed the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming—in this case, the Third Nuclear Age project at the University of Leicester.

The “Third Nuclear Age” research project is driven by the desire to provide the first systematic study of how disruptive technologies and renewed geopolitical rivalries are challenging and recasting the nature of nuclear risks and global nuclear order.  The project is designed to build global intellectual capacity and train the next generation of experts on this issue, utilise novel methodologies, including war-game simulations exercises, and will hopefully provide the centrepiece for a whole new generation of interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary work on nuclear affairs.  More detail on the project can be found at:  The work is funded by the European Research Council, grant number: 866155.

Archipelago of Design endorses the Derby House Principles

The Archipelago of Design is the latest group of wargaming professionals to endorse the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion:

The Archipelago of Design believes in inclusive leadership and the value of mobilizing the widest diversity of frames and identities for designing novel approaches to security challenges. We strongly support the Derby House Principles in our efforts to develop serious games that advances design mindsets in defence and security organisations of NATO members and partners. Diversity and inclusion is critical for designing games that resonate with a broader range of  security professionals and champion inclusive leadership in their organisations. We wholeheartedly encourage our partners to endorse the Derby House Principles and support this noble cause in their wargaming and serious game efforts. 

A well-deserved honour

If you’re part of a professional wargaming organization who would like to support the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion, let us know!

King’s Wargaming Network recruiting graduate students for analyst training

The King’s Wargaming Network is recruiting graduate students for its annual Analyst Training for Analytical Wargaming Programme:

The programme provides King’s students with an opportunity to support King’s researchers in the execution of wargames for research purposes.

The programme is now in its sixth year and is highly competitive. Analysts will support a PhD research project examining US Army doctrinal development practices for current and near-future warfighting. The project is led by Anna Nettleship.

If selected, you will:

Receive 8 hours over 4 sessions of practical training in wargame testing, data collection and analysis

Engage with cutting-edge methods and research

Support the in-person or remote execution of a strategic analytical wargame

Network with peers and wargaming experts

Applications are due no later than 25 October 2021. If interested, please fill out an application here

GAC endorses the Derby House Principles

We are pleased to announce that Global Affairs Canada is the latest organization to endorse the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming.

For more information on strategic gaming and Canadian foreign policy, contact Madeline Johnson (GAC Strategic Gaming Specialist).

Forthcoming GUWS seminars

There’s always so much going on at the Georgetown University Wargaming Society that we can’t keep up! Here are a couple of their forthcoming events that might be of interest to PAXsims readers.

October 12: Going to the Ground: Virtual Games at the Canadian Forces College (1800-2100 ET)

This talk will discuss the crash development, execution, and maturation of a robust virtual wargaming program at Canadian Forces College (CFC) as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. CFC took the last part of its 2019-2020, the entirety of its 2020-2021, and much of its 2021-2022 academic years fully online as a result of the pandemic, and virtually-executed wargaming emerged as an important new way to allow students, teachers, and directing staff to undertake active learning despite the challenges of the pandemic.

Robert C. Engen is an assistant professor at the Canadian Forces College (CFC), Canada’s senior professional military education institute. He is the Deputy Director of the Department of Military Planning and Operations at CFC, holds primary responsibility for wargame development and execution at the college, and teaches a wargame design course. He is the author of three books on combat motivation, has a forthcoming two-volume series on force health protection and disease prevention, and is the official regimental historian of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI). He is also the author of the Canadian Land Warfare Centre’s forthcoming fictional novella of future warfare, Crisis in Baltika.

Register here.

October 19: Brain Matters in Wargaming (1800-2100 ET)

Our brains are changing, or so neuroscientists say – in part due to reliance on technology. As scientists work to develop a deeper understanding of these changes, other important trends continue to reveal the need for more inclusive approaches to learning as the definition and identification of neurodivergent learners grow, signaling an important call to action for educators and instructors across disciplines including national security and defense.

In this session, Lauren will share important trends in cognition, key observations and questions around how changing brains will continue to challenge outmoded learning models, and notable developments. In addition, Lauren will discuss how wargaming already includes promising approaches to maximizing engagement of all learners, but also identify areas for potential advancement in wargaming to build a more inclusive and dynamic learning environment for a future national security workforce. 

Lauren Buitta is founder and CEO of Girl Security. Lauren began her career in national security in Chicago, IL in 2003 as a policy analyst with the National Strategy Forum, a nonpartisan national security think tank. In 2009 while attending law school, Lauren launched her consulting firm, Stele Consulting, where she worked on local policy issues related to exclusionary zoning policies and racial discrimination. In 2016, Lauren recognized both the continued underrepresentation of women in national security and the need for a more intersectional approach to security. In response, she launched Girl Security – the only organization dedicated to preparing girls, women, and gender minorities for national security. Lauren is a former Fellow with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (2003), Truman National Security Project (2006), American Bar Association Standing Committee on Law and National Security (2012) and Chicago Council on Global Affairs (2017). She has authored articles, reports and book chapters on national security, foreign policy, and public policy. Lauren was recently named one of “50 Women Making the World a Better Place” by Instyle Magazine and is the recipient of the 2021 21st Century Leader Award by the National Committee on American Foreign Policy.

Register here.

For previous GUWS seminars, see their YouTube channel.

Dstl: Diversity on the virtual battlefield

Dstl has highlighted their commitment to diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming with a new video and accompanying article.

Dstl Head of the Defence Wargaming Centre (DWC) Mike said:

The first step is to recognise the issue and to commit to do something about it.

The Derby House Principles were co-created by a Dstl wargamer and Dstl – all of Dstl, not just the wargaming centre – was an early signatory.

We are committed to ensuring the Defence Wargaming Centre is an inclusive environment. We display the Derby House Principles prominently in the DWC and brief them to players at our games in order to make clear that we are an inclusive environment. We include diversity and inclusion in our training and development.

He went on to say they were looking at the barriers to diversity and inclusion in how we design our games and are seeking to address them. And we encourage our partners to value diversity and inclusion – including encouraging them to update their software to represent more diverse armed forces.

Slitherine Software adopted the Derby House Principles in September.

Slitherine/Matrix Games adopts the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming

We are very pleased to announce that Slitherine Software / Matrix Games are the latest company to embrace the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming:

We have been playing and working in wargames for over thirty years and we’ve witnessed a slow and steady shift to a more diverse audience. As players, the move to a more diverse and inclusive environment has opened the market to a wide range of opportunities, and it’s happening at an organic and consistent pace. As professionals, we also have a corporate responsibility to boost this shift with our hiring opportunities, our ability to open career possibility, and our active efforts to promote inclusion in professional wargaming. We are delighted to adhere to the Derby House Principles as a testament to efforts in the present and commitment to our plans for the future. 

Iain McNeil, CEO Slitherine Software UK Ltd

The Derby House Principles have been endorsed by more than thirty major professional organizations, defence establishments, and research institutions, as well as professional wargame designers, developers, consultancies, and companies. If your company or organization would like to join this growing list, contact us for more details.

“Political correctness” and professional wargaming

Every once in a while, a hobby wargame forum will feature dire warnings that “political correctness” is threatening our ability to play with dice, cardboard chits, and toy soldiers.

Sometimes these debates revolve around issues of inclusivity, such as the experience of women wargamers. I think most hobbyists are happy the enlarge the pool of players, but there are always a few who raise the bizarre spectre of enforced quotas or make remarkably misogynist arguments rooted in a kind of archaic biological determinism. Reflecting this, at least one major hobby wargaming forum effectively prohibits sharing items on women and wargaming on the grounds that it is too divisive and “political.” Sheesh.

Other times, someone will suggest that discouraging Confederate flags in promotional artwork or sensitivities around the use of swastikas or SS insignia on unit counters imperils our fundamental freedoms or understanding of history. This too is a pretty hard argument to sustain. There are, after all, more than seven thousand American Civil War or World War Two-themed games listed on BoardGameGeek, and more every month.

Finally, in recent years the hobby (and society more broadly) has seen a much more thoughtful discussion of issues of representation, with greater attention to how hobby games and other forms of cultural production, such as cinema, might sustain certain biases—for example, in their treatment of colonialism or the non-European world. This discussion, which is fundamentally about greater diversity, inclusion, and accuracy in historical gaming, is generally a good thing, resulting in such positive developments as the Zenobia Award.

What does all this have to do with serious, professional wargaming? Very little, I think. It is fair to say that sensitivities around the presence of Confederate flags in a wargame is not something that any professional wargamer ever needs worry about. Indeed, the only American Civil War sensitivity that I’m aware of—related to me by an American government colleague—was him having to explain to foreign visitors why the name of a military base, street, statue, or artwork seemingly glorified those who committed treason and killed US citizens in defence of race-based chattel slavery.

Instead, the “political correctness” challenges faced within professional wargaming and other serious policy gaming are three-fold:

(1) Bureaucratic politics and inter-service or inter-agency sensitivities. Who do we invite? Who don’t we invite? If we game topic X will it cause problems with agencies Y and Z? Can we employ wargames as a tool (or weapon) of inter-service budget competition? Stephen Downes-Martin in particular has done seminal work on the broader institutional game within which professional wargames are situated. I’ve certainly spent many hours in discussions about who gets invited to games in which a key consideration is bureaucratic politics.

(2) Alliance sensitivities. “Political correctness” doesn’t just pertain to inter-service rivalries, but also to international partnerships. Anyone who has ever been involved in the design of a NATO wargame will have experienced how difficult it is to develop a scenario that doesn’t upset any of the alliance partners. During the Trump Administration in particular, many US partners were also very nervous about how to portray American policy in serious wargames—indeed, in an informal poll of non-American Western defence professionals at Connections North this year, almost a third reported that they felt they couldn’t accurately represent the US in their wargames for fear of damaging bilateral relations with Washington.

(3) Fear of the political or diplomatic ramifications of media leaks. Connections US once shelved a potential game lab topic (external intervention in the Syrian civil war) because the host institution—quite rightly—feared that the topic, if reported in the media, could be misinterpreted by the US public, allies, or adversaries. One serious game I developed for a government client was never used outside the department with key stakeholders out of concern as to how others might portray the game. Two others I was asked to assist with in the past year were never greenlighted in part because of concerns over diplomatic sensitivities if the outside subject matter experts involved spoke to the media. On more than one occasion I’ve had to run serious policy games or red teaming sessions under an academic “chapeau” to reduce the political or diplomatic risk to government participants.

You’ll noticed that I haven’t included diversity and inclusion in my list of “political correctness” issues here. While a few hobby wargamers may still yearn for the early twentieth century, when HG Wells could subtitle Little Wars “a game for boys from twelve years of age to one hundred and fifty and for that more intelligent sort of girl who likes boys’ games and books,” in the professional domain it is now generally recognized that diversity can contribute to the quality of analysis, that a commitment to inclusion expands the pool of talent, and that eliminating formal and informal barriers is a good thing. Most major professional associations have endorsed the Derby House Principles, and most gaming professionals welcome steps to expand and broaden the community. I was struck by this at the recent Connections UK conference, where promoting inclusion was presented as a cornerstone of what it is professionals do. It can also be seen in this recent Dstl job advertisement for a wargaming analyst, which makes a particular effort to reach out to underrepresented groups. This isn’t to say there aren’t obstacles and points of friction, and the burden of dealing with these often seems to unfairly fall on the shoulders of women and minorities. There are also real issues to be discussed about how to promote and how to harness diversity, how to identify and develop excellence, and what attitudes, behaviours,and institutional procedures might benefit from change. However, I think in general professional wargaming is turning the corner—not as quickly as we might all want, perhaps, but turning it all the same.

Which brings me back to my central point: handling the inevitable political sensitivities in professional wargame design, or indeed in other serious games. What are the tricks and techniques for doing this? It would make a great panel or working group topic for a future Connections conference…

Unethical Professional Wargaming final report

Click on the Image for the Report

The US Command and General Staff College, with support from the CGSC Foundation, hosted the Connections US 2021 Wargaming Conference and chose the Conference theme “Ethics and Wargaming”. An international team of 30 wargaming experts started work on October 2020 on the thought experiment “how to use unethical practices to make your wargame say what you want it to say”, where by “unethical practice” we mean any practice motivated by a desire to influence the sponsor to make a decision in the best interest of the unethical practitioner instead of the best interest of national security. We know intellectual dishonesty occurs in science and among senior civilian and military leaders. It is irresponsible to assume it does not exist within professional wargaming (or indeed any process that manages any inquiry activity).

This thought experiment is useful in three ways for:

  • discovering wargame design principles and malfeasance that wargame designers, practitioners, sponsors, players and other stakeholders might miss if one focused on best practices of well-designed games by well-intentioned competent experts.
  • inoculating wargaming against deliberate and inadvertent manipulation of wargame design by senior stakeholders
  • protecting ourselves from self-deception by our own inadvertent malign practice.

Core Conclusion: Most professional wargames are vulnerable to unethical practice due to the
presence of the three established criteria for intellectual fraud. The lack of familiarity by
senior officers or civilian executives with the unethical practices described in this report
means we cannot say that most DoD wargames are free of unethical practices.

What is to be Done? By examining the interactions between the wargame stakeholders in the
external environment, the outer game and the inner game, along with the the three criteria
for the presence of intellectual fraud, and taking culture into account, we can increase the
value and ethical probity of wargaming and ensure the decisions that the wargames are
designed to influence are in the best interest of national security. Details are in the final report.

Kania and McCaslin: China’s progress in wargaming and opposing force training

The Institute for the Study of war has just published a study by Elsa Kania and Ian Burns McCaslin entitled Learning Warfare from the Laboratory: China’s progress in wargaming and opposing force training (September 2021).

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.1 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.2 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.3

Wargaming is part of a cycle of military learning and experimentation that involves and informs exercises against opposing forces (OPFOR), as well as a range of other styles of training. While this report does not provide a comprehensive assessment of the PLA’s current training methods, our analysis examines select aspects of the PLA’s computerized wargaming and employment of blue (i.e., simulated adversary) forces in the context of the continuing transformation of PLA training. Over time, the PLA has improved the realism of its “actual combat training” (shizhan hua xunlian, 实战化训练) and undertaken exercises in increasingly challenging battlefield environments.4 The lessons learned from wargaming can be tested in exercises, and the outcomes of exercises can shape the design for wargames.

PLA wargaming and development of their blue forces continue to be significantly influenced by emulation of the approaches of foreign militaries, particularly those of the US military. The combination of domestic and foreign influences has resulted in features unique to the PLA, reflecting distinct priorities, interests, and constraints. In wargaming, for example, the PLA appears to prefer and prioritize computerized approaches over other forms, and it has attempted to leverage this cost-effective technique in training to address certain long-standing weaknesses, such as in command decision-making.5 To that end, the PLA has scaled up wargaming in professional military education (PME), especially through programming at the PLA’s National Defense University (NDU). The history and political character of the PLA as the armed wing of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) also appear to be a notable influence, demonstrated by the experimentation with political warfare in PLA wargaming.

Meanwhile, wargaming has become prominent and popularized across China, and the PLA has leveraged the commercialization of wargaming to improve its quality and realism. Ongoing advances in video games and innovations from the video game industry continue to provide China’s armed forces with new options for realistic, engaging wargames. Under the auspices of China’s national strategy for military-civil fusion (MCF), several technology companies have partnered with the PLA to develop new systems for wargaming and military simulations. Beyond PME efforts, wargaming competitions have become an important element of

national defense education, as thousands of military and civilian students across universities nationwide participate in annual wargaming competitions. This national initiative encourages patriotism and interest in military affairs among the public while fostering greater unity and understanding between military and civilian stakeholders.6

Increasingly, the PLA is pursuing innovation in the platforms and techniques used in wargaming, including the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI). The PLA has introduced “intelligentization” (zhinenghua, 智能化) as a priority for its military modernization. This strategic initiative includes the development of AI for military applications and leveraging wargaming platforms to advance technological experimentation. The progress to date includes PLA contests and competitions that have concentrated on developing AI systems for wargaming in complex scenarios. Starting in 2017, these efforts have seen the development of more powerful AI systems across years of competitions. The human-machine confrontation (renji duikang, 人机 对抗) that can occur through such a virtual platform also could allow for improvements in planning and decision support systems for future joint operations. The increasing capabilities of AI systems in wargaming also allow for improvements in simulated adversaries.7 Beyond the objective to improve the quality of their wargames for training purposes, there are scientists and strategists in the PLA who hope AI will become powerful enough to facilitate human planning and command decision-making in future warfare.8

The PLA’s OPFOR program has centered upon the creation of blue forces that are intended to imitate potential adversaries. These units are directed to serve as whetstones to increase the challenge of training, thereby contributing to the PLA’s effort to overcome its “peace disease.” While the PLA’s OPFOR efforts have been unique in their variety and potential creativity, the relatively fragmented development highlights the issues of coordination and standardization that have often impeded progress within the PLA. However, the increasing professionalism of these initiatives, including the focus on simulating the United States and its allies as anticipated adversaries, is an important dimension of PLA preparations to watch going forward.

This report starts by tracing the trajectory of wargaming within the PLA in modern Chinese history and then continues to examine the progression of PLA blue forces in its OPFOR program. The analysis initially reviews a series of recent wargaming competitions, examining the introduction of AI systems into wargaming and considering com- mercial contributions to wargaming. Our research also considers the progression of OPFOR exercises (exercises that involve a force tasked with representing an enemy) that have expanded and increased in sophistication with the use of improved blue forces. We examine what wargaming and OPFOR exercises can reveal about the PLA’s capacity to learn and adapt to the challenges of future warfare. In closing, we raise considerations and potential recommendations for US policy.

Analytical Architecture that Includes Wargaming for Decision Makers

Dr. Jon Compton presents and discusses the process he has used to design, run and analyze analytic wargames in support of senior decision makers faced with serious national security related problems.

Click on Image to View Presentation on YouTube

“Wargames are conducted for purposes of education and training, concept exploration or development, or sometimes done to raise awareness about certain issues or concepts. Within OSD, however, the style of wargame required is referred to as Analytical Wargaming, and is nested with other analytical or Operations Research techniques to generate contextualized knowledge and recommendations for leadership.”

— Jon Compton

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