Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Category Archives: simulation and gaming news

The Beaverton on board gaming

Today in The Beaverton is a report on a revolutionary new indie board game that’s even more fun to set up than it is to play.



(Yes, this is satire)

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 20 August 2019


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

Aaron David and Brian Train suggested material for this most recent edition.



At Open Democracy, Luke Cooper reports “We wargamed the last days of Brexit. Here’s what we found out.

A group of us recently participated in a simulation game to model the future of the Brexit process. By assuming different roles amongst the forces in conflict over the future of the United Kingdom, we hoped to gain a greater understanding of the process and what might come next. We solicited the help of Richard Barbrook, an academic at Westminster University, and director of Digital Liberties, a UK-based cooperative that has pioneered the use of participatory simulations to anticipate political scenarios. His book, Class Wargames, applies the ideas of the French situationist, Guy Debord, who advocated the use of strategy games as performative, even theatrical, exercises to understand one’s political opponents and their strategic thinking. Barbrook designed the game, which he called, Meaningful Votes: The Brexit Simulation.

Collaborating on this initiative with the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen (IWM) and the ERSTE Foundation in Vienna we assembled a group of participants in Vienna comprised of civil society, journalists, academics and intellectuals.They were a mixture of nationalities, from Austria, the Balkans, the United States and Britain, and held a plurality of political views from left to right. For mainland European participants the game provided an opportunity to empirically rationalise a crisis that many had found inexplicable; for example, the refusal hitherto of the British parties to find a compromise on Brexit in Parliament is highly alien to those used to the political systems with a culture of building consensus (often with proportional representation), that exist in Germany, the Netherlands and Austria. Each participant took on the role of a faction within Parliament with the game beginning after the defeat of the heavy defeat of the First Meaningful Vote on 15 January 2019.



At War on the Rocks, Jared Samuelson argues that NATO navies need to do better and more realistic wargaming.

NATO’s navies should draw a lesson from history and begin wargaming for a potential future European conflict now. Fortunately, NATO can use an existing foundation to do exactly this with “War at Sea,” a game the U.S. Naval War College’s Joint Military Operations department originally developed in 2017 and has continuously revised since. So, what is the problem with existing NATO naval wargaming? It is high time to tackle this question. In answering it, I draw on my own experience with “War at Sea” — in my capacity as the U.S. Navy liaison officer at the German Armed Forces Staff College — to explain how this game can help plug an important gap in the alliance’s training efforts. Given the minimal additional investment in both time and money required, this wargame offers a golden opportunity for NATO to begin the learning process to succeed in a future conflict.


The UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) has contracted the commercial digital wargame designer Slitherine to develop and adapt hobby games for serious wargaming purposes.

You’ll find the press statement on the project here.



The US Air Force wants wargames that would allow it to explore the use and implications of directed energy weapons, including lasers and high powered electro-magnetics. According to NextGov:

The Air Force Research Lab issued a request for information Friday seeking a vendor that can provide wargame modeling and simulations that include how energy weapons are being used today and how they will be used in the near future.

“The purpose of these [military utility] studies is to determine if and how well AFRL/RD and industry technologies can help address warfighter needs and gaps including complementing current fielded technologies and those under development by others,” the notice states.



Registration for the October MORS Cyberspace Wargaming & Analytics workshop is now open.


James Vaughan (CEO & Founder, Ndemic Creations) discusses how “0 to 120 Million: Infecting the World with Games that Make You Think,” in his keynote address at the recent Games4Change Festival.

Our PAXsims review of one of their games, Rebel Inc, can be found here.


The folks at the TESA Collective (designers of Rise Up!) have announced a new board game project: Strike! The Game of Worker Rebellion.

HappyCorp, the richest company in the world, has just unleashed its most evil plan yet: turning Mercury City into an entirely corporate-run city. From the schools to the sidewalks, everything will be owned and run by HappyCorp, and every resident will become a HappyCorp employee. There will be no more minimum wage, no more public services, and no more unions. HappyCorp has already begun unleashing its Smile Drones to convert the city’s infrastructure, crush protests, and ensure every resident watches its Commercial Breaks.

Players take on the role of the Strike Council to lead a city-wide strike of workers against HappyCorp’s take over, while also fighting for better livelihoods for all. Players will use energy tokens to grow their ranks, mobilize their workers, and complete strike cards. As the Strike Council scores victories for workers around the city, they will gain the support of more allies, from the dockworkers to the teachers, and build new bases of support from the manufacturing district to the university.

So do you have what it takes to lead the worker rebellion to defeat HappyCorp? Or will you soon be an employee of HappyCity?



Prolific wargame designer Brian Train was recently interviewed by Harold Buchanan for his Harold on Games podcast.


It includes the story of how Brian and I met, and a little about We Are Coming, Nineveh! (28:22), which should be available for preorder from Nuts! Publishing later this year.


On the subject of Canadians, the Communications Security Establishment (CSE)—Canada’s super-secret signals intelligence agency—have been making use of an “Ottawa-based escape room company to help grow its recruitment levels and raise its profile.” According to the CBC:

Starting in September, wannabe code breakers (and average revellers looking for a night out) can take a crack at solving cyberattack scenarios at the Escape Manor in the city’s Hintonburg neighbourhood.

The goal, said CSE spokesperson Ryan Foreman, is to attract new recruits to help the agency collect foreign intelligence and thwart cyberattacks.

“The idea behind our partnership is to bolster our recruiting efforts and build awareness of who we are and what we do,” he said in an email to CBC News.

“This is an ideal venue for us to reach people with these interests who may not be aware of CSE or have ever considered career opportunities in Canada’s security and intelligence community.”

The Recruit will be a narrative game involving a cyberattack by the fictional adversary known as The Syndicate.

There is no word yet on whether the adventure will include such hyper-realistic Canadian intelligence community challenges as trying to get paid properly on the federal government’s Phoenix payroll system or dealing with apparently endless access to information (ATIP) requests.


In an interview with Game Informer, the designers of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare argue the game isn’t “political.”

As a number of commentators have noted, theirs seems to be  a very narrow definition of politics.


Seven Board Games designed for use in education have been cited for excellence in the 2019 Serious Play Award Competition. You can find out about them at the (for-profit) Serious Play conferences website.


LECMgt-Logo-with-text.pngThe LECMgt blog contains a short interview with your very own PAXsims editor, on the subject of PAXsims itself.

You’ll find it here.


On a final note, with the ongoing US debate over mass shooting once again in the news in recent weeks, we thought we would post this informative infographic from Vox.



Recent simulation and gaming articles, 15 August 2019


PAXsims is pleased to present a selection of recently-published articles on simulation and serious gaming. We will start doing this regularly, in addition to our periodic “simulation and gaming miscellany” updates. Some of these may not address peacebuilding, conflict, or development issues at all, but have been included because of the broader perspective they offer on games-based education or analysis.

Articles may be gated/paywalled and not accessible without institutional access to the publication.

McDarby G, Reynolds L, Zibwowa Z, et al, “The global pool of simulation exercise materials in health emergency preparedness and response: a scoping review with a health system perspective.” 

Simulation Exercises (SimEx) are an established tool in defence and allied security sectors, applied extensively in health security initiatives under national or international legislative requirements, particularly the International Health Regulations (2005). There is, however, a paucity of information on SimEx application to test the functionality of health systems alongside emergency preparedness, response and recovery. Given the important implications health services resilience has for the protection and improvement of human life, this scoping review was undertaken to determine how the publicly available body of existing global SimEx materials considers health systems, together with health security functions in the event of disruptive emergencies.

The global review identified 668 articles from literature and 73 products from institutional sources. Relevant screening identified 51 materials suitable to examine from a health system lens using the six health system building blocks as per the WHO Health System Framework. Eight materials were identified for further examination of their ability to test health system functionality from a resilience perspective.

SimEx are an effective approach used extensively within health security and emergency response sectors but is not yet adequately used to test health system resilience. Currently available SimEx materials lack an integrated health system perspective and have a limited focus on the quality of services delivered within the context of response to a public health emergency. The materials do not focus on the ability of systems to effectively maintain core services during response.

Without adjustment of the scope and focus, currently available SimEx materials do not have the capacity to test health systems to support the development of resilient health systems. Dedicated SimEx materials are urgently needed to fill this gap and harness their potential as an operational tool to contribute to improvements in health systems. They can act as effective global goods to allow testing of different functional aspects of health systems and service delivery alongside emergency preparedness and response.

The work was conducted within the scope of the Tackling Deadly Diseases in Africa Programme, funded by the UK Department for International Development, which seeks to strengthen collaboration between the health system and health security clusters to promote health security and build resilient health systems.


Virginia C. Muckler, Christine Thomas, “Exploring Suspension of Disbelief Among Graduate and Undergraduate Nursing Students,” Clinical Simulation in Nursing 35 (2019).


The nature and process of suspending disbelief is complex, subjective, and has not been well researched in clinical simulation.


A descriptive phenomenological approach with semistructured interviews explored student experiences of suspending disbelief during simulation-based learning.


Among the 18 (69%) graduate students and 8 (31%) undergraduate students, three themes emerged from participant narratives including (1) frame of mind, (2) environment, and (3) tempo. Subthemes of frame of mind included cognitive focus, apprehension, and confidence.


Understanding nursing students’ lived experiences of suspending disbelief can enhance the educator’s ability to design and facilitate effective simulation, student development, and suspension of disbelief.


  • Suspension of disbelief is complex, subjective, and underresearched.
  • Frame of mind or mindset influences suspension of disbelief.
  • Cognitive focus, apprehension, and confidence affect suspension of disbelief.
  • Functional equipment enhances the environment and suspension of disbelief.
  • Scenario progression without interruption promotes suspension of disbelief.


Louis P. Halamek, Robert Cady, and Michael Sterling, “Using briefing, simulation and debriefing to improve human and system performance,” Seminars in Perinatology (prepublication 2019).

Safety, effectiveness and efficiency are keys to performance in all high-risk industries; healthcare is no exception, and neonatal-perinatal medicine is one of the highest risk subspecialties within healthcare. Briefing, simulation and debriefing are methods used by professionals in high-risk industries to reduce the overall risk to life and enhance the safety of the human beings involved in receiving and delivering the services provided by those industries. Although relatively new to neonatal-perinatal medicine, briefing, simulation and debriefing are being practiced with increasing frequency and have become embedded in training exercises such as the Neonatal Resuscitation Program (NRP) of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). This chapter will define these terms and offer examples as to how they are used in high-risk activities including neonatal-perinatal medicine.


Sundeep Kaur Varaich, “Effectiveness of Simulation in Addressing Stigma,” PhD dissrtation, University of Northern Colorado, May 2019.

Mental health stigma hinders quality nursing care. The aim of this quasi- experimental study was to test if simulation was effective for addressing stigma in nursing education and evaluating student attitudes towards psychiatric conditions. A sample of eight-nine undergraduate nursing students were assigned to a control or treatment group and participated in either a chronic health challenge scenario or a mental health scenario to test the effectiveness of using a mental health simulation to address stigmatizing attitudes. Day’s Mental Illness Stigma Scale was used as the data collection tool for the post-test to measure students’ stigmatizing perceptions in relation to their assigned scenario. This scale was completed by the students immediately after the simulation and approximately three months after participating in the simulation scenario to evaluate change in perceptions. Analysis of mean scores revealed that students participating in the mental health scenario demonstrated more stigmatizing attitudes overall except related to the subscale for anxiety toward mental illness, for which the control group showed more stigmatizing attitudes. These findings indicate a need for further research into the use of simulation as an educational approach and the possibility of modifying this approach for effectively addressing mental health stigma.

(Emphasis added–this research shows a simulation experience potentially causing undesirable learning outcomes.)

Armchair Dragoons on the “culture wars”

DragoonsLogoHEADER-1A special issue of Armchair Dragoons’ Mentioned in Dispatches podcast features Brant Guillory, Matt Kirschenbaum, and myself discussing recent controversies on representation and diversity in the wargaming hobby.

For some background, see these previous reports at PAXsims:

There is also a longer list of articles linked at Armchair Dragoons.

And before anyone comments, yes we were all painfully aware of the irony of three middle-aged white guys discussing diversity in the hobby—sadly, many of the other gamers Brant reached out were unavailable. If you’ve got something you would like to contribute to the debate (especially if you’re a female, LGBTQ, or other minority wargamer) please drop us a line—PAXsims is always looking for material on this and other topics.


Picture credit: Origin.

Wargaming and its place in PME


War on the Rocks has just published a piece by Carrie Lee and Bill Lewis of the US Air War College entitled “Wargaming Has a Place, But is No Panacea for Professional Military Education.”

The school year is about to start, and not just for the kids. Senior-level professional military education is about to begin a new academic year, with new classes of students from across the services preparing to embark upon ten months of education that is meant to elevate their thinking from the operational and tactical to the strategic level. In the two years since the release of the National Defense Strategy (and the now-infamous paragraph that declared professional military education to be “stagnant”), a heated debate has emerged on the pages of this website about the best ways to accomplish the mission of professional military education. Suggestions for improvement have spanned the gamut, from teaching students to be good staffers to introducing diversity — both in the faculty and the curriculum — to improving the ways in which we assess strategic competency. Others have pushed back, pointing out that professional military education already is highly responsive to change and warning about the dangers of the “good idea fairy.” In April, James Lacy of the Marine War College proposed another solution: All professional military education institutions should include board game wargaming as a part of their curriculum.

While this recommendation may hold appeal with those who are explicitly focused on military history and operational art, Lacey’s proposal is both short-sighted and misses the importance of diversity in professional military education — both between service colleges and in the curriculum itself. There is little doubt that experiential learning can be a valuable part of any education, including professional military education. But it also comes in many forms, all of which have benefits and costs. If the mission of professional military education is to educate the next generation of senior leaders about the strategic level of war and expose them to the tools they will need to succeed at that level, then we must use a variety of methods across the service colleges, rather than defaulting to a series of one-size-fits-all solutions.

They conclude:

In order to best educate and prepare our students for this complex and challenging environment, a variety of tools are necessary, and “one size fits all” solutions may do more harm than good. There are many types of immersive programs that can be employed to achieve a broad range of learning objectives. We should strive to view our curriculum not as a checklist of required activities but instead as a wholistic educational experience.

Lee and Lewis are right, of course, that serious gaming is not some magic educational bullet. It takes times. Not all wargames are fit for educational purpose, even if they work well as hobby or analytical games. Academic schedules are crowded, and you can only do so much. There are many teaching techniques available. There is even overwhelming evidence that simulations, when used poorly, can do educational damage.

That being said, I’m not sure they really offer a great deal of guidance in what should be used when and in what ways, how this relates to other teaching techniques, and how we know we measure the effectiveness of all this.

Jim Lacey, who the authors critique as a point of departure, was quick to post a response to Facebook (reproduced here with permission):

Well it is not every day my approach to teaching strategic studies is called “shortsighted” by folks who apparently have no idea what I do. But, I suppose it is always an easy-out to set up a strawman – no matter how it departs from reality – as a foil to base an article upon .

In any event, it may have helped if you had read my earlier article on the topic

But in hopes of increasing your understanding of how we educate MCWAR students, please allow me to offer the following.. During the course of the year MCWAR students participate in a number of experiential events, including:

  • Conducting several staff rides, including Yorktown, the Overland Campaign, Gettysburg, Antietam, and Normandy. – FYI, the students also go on a two week trip to either Europe and Asia to immerse themselves in current issues
  • Engaging in multiple simulations (as you describe them). This includes participating in two multi-day geopolitical simulation at Tufts and Georgetown universities. Moreover, we employ a number of in-house simulations throughout a spectrum of historical, current, and future related topics.
  • I would dare say we also employ a large number of models (as you describe them) throughout the year.
  • When it comes to wargaming MCWAR employs the entire gamut: seminar games, matrix games, board games, computer assisted games, etc.
  • Engage in a number of simulations and wargames based on future scenarios against China, Russia, and Iran, which feed directly into ongoing concept development and Title 10 wargames
  • We also use boardgames, but they remain both a subset of our overall curriculum and a subset of our experiential learning program.

In any event, boardgames are never used in isolation. Let me give one example.

As part of our military history curriculum we examine the Civil War. The structure of that program breaks down as follows:

  1. The students are given a set of readings to finish before they enter the classroom
  2. They are then directed to a website I am developing, where they can listen to lectures from some of the best Civil War historians in the nation.
  3. They are also given CDs so that they can listen to other lectures in their cars
  4. Then, once they have absorbed this material, we conduct our seminar sessions. We only have two seminars at MCWAR…. So I break each of them into two parts and conduct a series of seminars with only 7-8 folks in each (as close to an Oxford tutorial as I can get).
  5. After all of this we conduct a board wargame. I run 3-4 wargames at the same time, so all of the students can fully participate. I have local community volunteers (long-time wargamers) sitting at each game to take care of the game mechanics, so that the students can focus on strategic decisions
  6. Then, when all of that is done, the class goes on their staff rides.

I am always looking for way to improve, and am hopeful that you can suggest ways I can do so.

In any event, I just wanted to clear the air and correct any misperceptions you and your co-author have as to how MCWAR sets-up its curriculum, as well as my approach to teaching and the use of wargames. Of course, a much of this could have been easily cleared-up with a phone call or an e-mail before you went to print. But, moving on… if there is anything I can do to assist your efforts to increase and enhance the use of modeling, simulations, and wargaming – or any other experiential learning methodology – at the Air War College, please do not hesitate to ask.

Thank you for your time and comments. I look forward to learning more about the Air Force conducts experiential learning.

This isn’t the first such debate. I’m not sure is should even be a debate, however. Rather, it points to the value of a common-sense “toolkit” approach to serious gaming. Wargames are tools. Sometimes they may be the best tool for the job. Sometimes there are better tools. Sometimes they are a pretty bad fit. Almost always, they need to be used in conjunction with other techniques.

Unexpected side effects of wargaming

At the Imperator Vespasian YouTube wargaming channel, there is an unfortunate tale of how wargaming A Very British Civil War (a 1930s alternative history that sees the rise of a fascist government in Britain) got one young man reported to the police for suspicious extremist activity via the Prevent counter-radicalizationprogramme.

It all ended up alright in the end, with the police dismissing the school’s concerns. Still, while one understands teachers being concerned at a student’s sudden interest in fascist paraphernalia, there does seem to have been a major shortage of common sense in this case.

The Prevent initiative has been controversial from the outset, although those who have been innocently caught up in the reporting system have tended to be Muslims.

In 2017/18 there were 7,318 referrals under the system, of which 33% were made by schools. 57% were under age 21, and 87% were male.  Of those reported, 44% were reported for suspected Islamist extremist, and 18% for suspected right wing extremism. 42% were investigated and no further action was required (and thus might be considered “false positives”—people who who incorrectly reported).


NYT: Should Board Gamers Play the Roles of Racists, Slavers and Nazis?

NYTdraper.pngYesterday, the New York Times featured a thoughtful article by Kevin Draper on the growing debate within gaming communities regarding representation. The point of the departure was the controversy over Scramble for Africa, a colonialism-themed Eurogame that GMT Games was to publish, but later withdrew (see here for previous coverage of PAXsims).

In the continuing explosion of tabletop board gaming, there are numerous World War II games in which players get to be Nazis. There are American Civil War games in which players take the role of the Confederacy. Some of these games confront the victims of the Holocaust and enslaved people head on; most don’t, though of course they’re right there if players choose to look.

But even poorly designed games with war themes often get the benefit of the doubt. They are generally created and played by people deeply interested in history. They prize accuracy over fun. Most games in this genre are accompanied by extensive reading lists and explanations; players often treat them as a way to learn that is more engaging than just reading a book.

Scramble for Africa was a new strategy game — what is called a “eurogame,” to contrast the genre with war games and more confrontational luck-based American board games. In it, the player would “take the role of one of six European powers with an eye toward exploring the unknown interior of Africa, discovering land and natural resources,” as the game’s description put it.

And with that, Scramble for Africa became board gaming’s entree into the very particular, sometimes confusing and very of-the-moment culture wars of 2019.

My favourite part of the piece is a comment by game designer Cole Wehrle:

The board game hobby — especially in the United States — is overwhelmingly white and male, though, anecdotally, that seems to be changing. Mr. Wehrle and Mr. Reuss said they see more women and people of color playing games and attending board game conventions.

The ranks of board game designers, however, is changing more slowly. According to one study, 94 percent of the designers for the top 100 ranked games on BoardGameGeek were white men. This perhaps explains the viewpoint many games take. Their designers can more readily identify with the European colonizers, and not the colonized.

As long as Americans and Europeans dominate board gaming, themes of colonialism will likely abound. “You can make a game about anything, but you have to be responsible for the things you make,” said Mr. Wehrle, the designer.

Mr. Wehrle described board games as “little sympathy engines” because players directly embody a role. Designers should question whom they have players sympathize with, and why, but he believes they should still make games with difficult themes. “There is value to letting players sympathize with a position that is morally objectionable, as long as it has some larger payoff,” he said.

While the New York Times article is simply reporting on very real debates within the gaming community itself (and certainly did not urge censorship or indeed any particular position), the reaction in several online wargaming fora was predictably and depressingly hostile. Some were quick to decry this as yet another attempt by “Social Justice Warriors,” “Marxists,” or “globalists” to take away their beloved military-themed cardboard.

For another take on this issue, see our June report on wargaming and representation, wherein a piece in Vice by Rob Zacny provoked a similar barrage of angry online discussion.

Atlantic Council: Avenues for Conflict in the Gulf matrix game

Avenues_for_Conflict_in_the_GulfThe Atlantic Council has a released a new report detailing three Gulf crisis matrix games, recently conducted by John Watts, that explore how conflict might take place between Iran and Saudi Arabia:

The Gulf remains one of the most strategically critical regions in the world. Its stability and security have global implications, yet are far from certain. Along with the Arabia Foundation, the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security believes a convergence of trends in the region has created an inflection point, meaning actions today could have historic and long-lasting consequences.

Consequently, the Atlantic Council and the Arabia Foundation partnered to host a matrix game simulation with the intent to challenge commonly held assumptions of US and regional policymakers about the possibility for conflict in the Gulf, and plausible, but underappreciated, conventional and unconventional Iranian military options. The game recognized that Iran faces increasing pressure domestically and internationally, while simultaneously perceiving a historic opportunity to reshape regional dynamics through multiple regional conflicts. This convergence creates conditions that could lead to a strategic shock, and which warrant serious consideration. Moreover, throughout the region, shifting dynamics are creating new and unpredictable alignments in national interests among a variety of actors.

Because of the current uncertainty and diverse possible future permutations, the game sought to run multiple iterations of the same scenario, in order to explore a range of potential outcomes that would be deter- mined by the decisions of each key actor.

You will find further details and the main findings of the study at the report linked above. Particularly noteworthy is the heavy of covert, proxy, and “grey zone” tactics and the desire of both sides to avoid major direct armed conflict. This is also a rare case of a think-tank running multiple iterations of a game to more fully explore the problem space, so kudos to John and the Atlantic Council (together with the recently-defunct Arabia Foundation) for doing it that way. The token chips look like they might have come from the Matrix Game Construction Kit too!

Atlantic CouncilGulf.png

For an earlier 2016 game exploring crisis stability in the Gulf (in which John was also involved), see this Atlantic Council report and this PAXsims methodological note.

Finally, if you want to try your own hand at exploring tensions in the Gulf , have a look at A “Horrible, One-sided Deal,” a US-Iran matrix game we posted to PAXsims last month.

NPR: Girl Security brings war games to a younger generation


Picture credit: @StaciePettyjohn

NPR’s Hannah Allam reports on an innovative project by the non-profit Girl Security to engage teen girls in thinking about national security issues—in this case, through a Korea wargame developed by a team from RAND Center for Gaming.

You can listen to the broadcast here. It sounds like a terrific initiative!

UPDATE: NPR has now posted an article version too.

The RAND game designers said the goal is to urge the teens to find the smartest strategy to guard the interests of their respective sides. But they also wanted the players to think hard about the stakes involved in a game of brinksmanship between two nuclear powers.

As the hours wore on, it became clear to the players how quickly even a measured escalation could spin out of control and expand the conflict. By the end of the game, North Korea had used chemical weapons and deployed a nuclear land mine but lost much of its ground forces. The U.S. and South Korean side also suffered heavy casualties after a chemical attack.

“The situation is not good,” Pettyjohn said, surveying the game board.

Nobody won. Nobody ever wins in this simulation, which is why policymakers complain that their North Korea options range from bad to worse. RAND’s Ellie Bartels told the players that professional military planners struggle with the same frustrations they did.

“One of the things we hope to do with war games is help people plan for wars so we never have to fight them,” Bartels said. “And this is not a pretty war. It’s a war that’s not going to be low-cost, either, in terms of money or lives.”

In the “hot wash,” war game parlance for the dialogue and recap that comes after playing, several teens said they struggled with using unconventional weapons, even if they knew the scenario was fictional. Kelly, the red team member who was amped about chemical weapons, thanked her teammates for tempering some of her trigger-happy impulses.

“It’s really easy to forget the human cost,” she said. “Too easy.”

Before they broke for the day, RAND’s Becca Wasser told the players that this war game was special to her; she called it a highlight of her career to work with smart, young leaders-in-training. She also announced that each player would take home a souvenir — a miniature tank bedazzled with glitter.


Picture credit: NPR.


Forced to Fight


Forced to Fight is a browser game developed by the Canadian Red Cross (with the support of the ICRC and Global Affairs Canada) to educate youth about international humanitarian law, child soldiers, sexual and gender based violence, and related issues.

About Forced to Fight

The Canadian Red Cross aims to protect the dignity and lives of vulnerable people affected by armed conflict by ensuring respect for International Humanitarian Law (IHL) in Canada and around the world through education, training and advocacy. We organize events across the country to educate Canadians on the importance of IHL and to encourage dialogue on issues such as child soldiers, refugees, sexual and gender-based violence, and attacks on civilians, hospitals and schools. Forced to Fight is an interactive online resource designed for students between the ages of 13-18. The resource helps facilitate understanding of IHL and humanitarian issues and allows the user to experience what it is like for young people living in situations of armed conflict around the world. Teachers can use this resource in collaboration with the lesson plans available in the teaching resources links or they can choose to use it as a stand-alone activity to trigger critical thinking and classroom discussion on issues related to armed conflict. We thank the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for permission to use their resources and photos. The design of this resource was made possible thanks to financial support from the Government of Canada through a project with Global Affairs Canada. For more information please see the Instructional Guide for teachers.

Players assume the role of one of three young persons, and then are presented with a series of choices in the context of local armed conflict.


The website also includes a section for teachers, with additional instructional materials.

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 16 July 2019


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

Know of items we might want to include in future editions? Please email us!



Daisy Abbott, an interdisciplinary researcher and research developer based in the School of Simulation and Visualisation at The Glasgow School of Art, has developed a useful guide for modifying (commercial, hobby) tabletop games for educational use.

This paper describes a learning-objective-centric workflow for modifying (‘modding’) existing tabletop games for educational purposes. The work- flow combines existing research for serious games design with novel systematic analysis techniques for learning and game mechanics and gameplay loops to improve the understanding and rigour of the process. A detailed worked example applies the workflow to the development of a serious tabletop game with the educational goal of increasing knowledge and confidence of performing postgraduate literature reviews. Systematic application of the workflow to a real example supports the value of this approach and provides a useful template for educators to follow for increasing the quality and feasibility of self-designed serious games.

You’ll find the full paper here. You might also want to check out her recent article on “Game-based learning for postgraduates: an empirical study of an educational game to teach research skills,” at Higher Education Pedagogies 4, 1 (2019).


At the Megagame Assembly website, Ben Moores discusses the challenges (and shortcomings) of megagames addressing military operations.

For anyone who has listened to our megagame podcast, Last Turn Madness, you will know that I have an issue with the manner in which we represent war in megagames. War is an incredibly intense condition yet many of our military games fail to create an experience that is relatively engaging. Many players actually find elements of the theme and the mechanics incredibly dull. This is a poor state of affairs that we need to think more about.

The bad news is that writing a game is hard, really hard. Many of us start out with a vision of throwing out the rule book and creating something unique and seminal. Breaking the chains of what we know about military gaming looks easy in practice as there are so many wargame concepts out there dying to be put out of their misery. The reality is that development is largely incremental and beset with adversity that involves some fairly humbling experiences….

See his concerns and suggestions at the link above. For a detailed discussion of Ben’s game design for Undeniable Victory (a megagame of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War), see his November 2017 piece here at PAXsims.



In a recent article in Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences 19, 3 (March 2019), Galateia Terti, Isabelle Ruin, Milan Kalas, Ilona Láng, Arnau Cangròs i Alonso, Tommaso Sabbatini,and Valerio Lorini discuss ANYCare, a role-playing game to investigate crisis decision-making and communication challenges in weather-related hazards.

This study proposes a role-playing experiment to explore the value of modern impact-based weather forecasts on the decision-making process to (i) issue warnings and manage the official emergency response under uncertainty and (ii) communicate and trigger protective action at different levels of the warning system across Europe. Here, flood or strong-wind game simulations seek to represent the players’ realistic uncertainties and dilemmas embedded in the real-time forecasting-warning processes. The game was first tested in two scientific workshops in Finland and France, where European researchers, developers, forecasters and civil protection representatives played the simulations. Two other game sessions were organized afterwards (i) with undergraduate university students in France and (ii) with Finnish stakeholders involved in the management of hazardous weather emergencies. First results indicate that multi-model developments and crowdsourcing tools increase the level of confidence in the decision-making under pressure. We found that the role-playing approach facilitates interdisciplinary cooperation and argumentation on emergency response in a fun and interactive manner. The ANYCaRE experiment was proposed, therefore, as a valuable learning tool to enhance participants’ understanding of the complexities and challenges met by various actors in weather-related emergency management.




At Military Review (July-August 2019), Richard A. McConnel and Mark T. Gerges discuss “Seeing the Elephant: Improving Leader Visualization Skills through Simple War Games.”

While Command and General Staff College (CGSC) faculty members have wrestled with the challenge of how to best educate students to improve their visualization and description skills, they have hit upon a return to simple role-playing board games as a low-cost and highly effective means to repetitively improve students’ abilities. Examining the Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) publications from the past twenty years has revealed that implementing war-gaming as a training technique has been a systemic challenge during combat training center (CTC) rotations.2 This challenge manifested itself in three ways: players skipped the war-game step altogether; if planners skipped the war game, then the combined arms rehearsal turned into a war game; or staffs conducted war games that resembled a rehearsal in that they did not contain an action, reaction, counteraction methodology. As the faculty scanned the CALL publications for insights, an unrelated event in a single staff group caught their attention. In the fall of 2013, CGSC students who played a simple role-playing board game for a history class, in this case Kriegsspiel (War Game), did a much better job at the war-gaming step of the military decision-making process (MDMP) in the tactics class, in particular in their ability to see (describe) the friendly situation….

(h/t Aaron Danis)


At The National Interest, David Banks suggests that we “Check Out the Very Best Wargames Ever (And What We Can Learn From Them).”

Want to try your hand at negotiating during a crisis? Think you have a plan that could get the U.S. out of Afghanistan? Confident you could keep a nation secure when multi-party international diplomacy is more important than warfare? Strategy-based board games let you test your political and military acumen right at your kitchen table – while also helping you appreciate how decision-makers are limited by the choices of others.

For centuries, military trainers have used board games as tools to help recruits and leaders alike understand fundamental principles of warfare. In the early 19th century, for instance, the Prussian military required its officers to play a board game called “Kriegsspiel.” The high command realized that while individual officers might understand the principles of combat, they might not know how to apply them when facing an actual opponent. And in stepping back and analyzing what happened after a game was over, they might see what factors really mattered, and how the players’ choices influenced each other.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the U.S. Navy used war games to design military plans against potential adversaries. By the time World War II arrived, U.S. Admiral Chester Nimitz observed, the conflict “had been reenacted in the game rooms at the Naval War College by so many people and in so many different ways, that nothing happened during the war that was a surprise … absolutely nothing except the kamikaze tactics toward the end of the war.”

War gaming continues to offer opportunities for scholars to better understand security dynamics. A growing cadre of experts have turned to war games to show how a Russian invasion of the Baltics might play out or how a shift to robotic warfare might lead to fewer military crises. In my own research, I have used war games to better understand and prepare for what are sometimes called “low-frequency, multi-factor” events – security scenarios that have lots of variables but have rarely, or never, happened, such as a full-scale cyber-conflict between the U.S. and China.

War games are useful intellectual aids because they force players to make decisions under pressure. While people may intellectually understand a problem, gaming forces them to think even harder. As the Nobel Prize-winning economist Thomas Schelling put it, “one thing a person cannot do, no matter how rigorous his analysis or heroic his imagination, is to draw up a list of things that would never occur to him.” By facing off against opponents over a well-designed war game, people can come to see how political and military structures interact and appreciate the trade-offs and complications that come with making decisions in a competitive environment.

With this in mind, I present some of my favorite war games. They not only are gripping to play but also offer players a window into some core elements of modern security politics. They are rated for players, time and complexity (where “Monopoly” would score a 1 out of 5). I have no financial or professional relationships with any of the game publishers listed; these games are just personal favorites.

(This article also originally appeared at The Conversation.)



The Poll is an Indian board game that simulates how political parties fight and win elections.

In the game, each player takes control of the affairs of a political party: manages their finances, their policy stand and decides which seats to focus on in the run-up to the General Elections. Each player must draft an inclusive manifesto to fight constituencies all over the country, make promises through arguments and choose which campaign strategies to employ to maximise their own vote share. With the ultimate aim to win the majority of seats in the Lok Sabha.

It is currently available for pre-order.



The King’s Wargaming Newtwork is pleased to announce the first King’s Wargaming Alumni Weekend, which will take place during 21-24 November 2019 at King’s College London. 

It will include a public lecture on 22 November by Professor Philip Sabin on the future of wargaming to mark his 35-year service to the university and the first year anniversary of the King’s Wargaming Network.

All are welcome to register for the lecture here.


Rosenstrasse is a historical role-playing game developed by Moyra Turkington and Jessica Hammer.

Rosenstrasse is an elegaic, immersive historical role-playing game for four players and one facilitator. It explores marriages between Jewish and “Aryan” Germans in Berlin between 1933 and 1943, and culminates in the eponymous women-led protests. Each player takes the role of two characters, at least one of whom is Jewish and at least one of whom is female. As a result, players experience this story of persecution and resistance from multiple perspectives.

No prior knowledge of history is needed to play Rosenstrasse, nor does prior knowledge prevent enjoyment of the game. The game has been successfully play-tested with everyone from historians and Holocaust educators to people who knew almost nothing about the history. Similarly, you do not have to be an experienced role-player to enjoy the game. It is accessible both to long-time role-players, and to people who have never role-played before.

Instead of historical expertise, we ask players to bring human expertise to bear. Each character is paired with another as spouse or sibling. For example, Max and Annaliese are young, romantic, economically vulnerable lovers; Ruth and Izak are siblings who embody close-knit family bonds, but who are treated very differently by the Reich. These relationships are at the heart of the game. If you have cared about another person as a friend, family member, or romantic partner, then you have the expertise you need to play.

You will find further details of the Unruly Studios project at Kickstarter.

You might also want to have a look at this short Carnegie Mellon University Alumni Association webinar by Jessica Hammer, Thomas and Lydia Moran on “transformational games:” Game On! How Leveraging Gameplay Can Change Your Life



At Studies in Contemporary History, Florian Grenier and Maren Röger discuss “Den Kalten Krieg Spielen: Brett- und Computerspiele in der Systemkonfrontation” (in German).

Playing the Cold War. Board and Computer Games in the System Confrontation

During the Cold War, millions of people on both sides of the Iron Curtain played board and digital games – in living rooms, barracks and schools. They played classics such as Memory or Merk-Fix, but also games with names such as Fulda Gap or Class Struggle. The latter group addressed different aspects of the confrontation between the West and the so-called ›Eastern bloc‹ and offered players a simulation of the Cold War as a battle between good and evil. Cold War Studies have so far neglected games as sources of historical research. In this article, we argue that as a relevant part of popular culture in the 1970s and 1980s, board and digital games contributed significantly to conveying to a popular audience the fundamental characteristics of the East-West conflict. We show how games on both sides of the Iron Curtain adopted a logic of competition; we analyse how they made sense of the system confrontation, which specific national characteristics they had, how they could become critical tools and where the respective authorities saw the limits of what was ›playable‹. Testing one’s own demise as a possibility for action or dystopia often seemed morally and politically questionable, because the scenarios developed in games could perhaps change people’s views of reality and intensify criticism. On the other hand, the games could also support the routinisation of the Cold War: They presented knowledge about military facts and contributed to habituation to the potential nuclear threat.


Dstl: Software, training & simulation and wargaming opportunities


The UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory is looking for up to 15 new staff specializing in simulation and wargaming:

We are recruiting up to 15 talented individuals across the Simulation and Numerical Methods group to use their specialist knowledge innovatively and to work in multidisciplinary teams in the following areas:

• Training, Simulation and Synthetic Environments
• Software Engineering
• Wargaming and Simulation
• Manual Wargaming

Depending on your skills and experience you’ll be working in one of the following areas;

The Training and Transformative Technologies Team focuses on innovative methods and tools to deliver Military Training and Education. This includes representing future Operating Environments in simulation and exploiting novel training approaches such as Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality Technologies.

The Wargaming capability you would be joining uses wargaming as a structured analytical technique to understand conflict in order to provide advice to the Ministry of Defence and wider UK Government. It is a multidisciplinary capability, drawing on quantitative and qualitative operational analysis techniques, facilitation, adjudication, and player interaction in order to model warfare, conflict or adversarial scenarios to identify and assess factors that can lead to different results (e.g. failure, success or something in between) within a given setting.

The Software Modelling & Simulation team provides the software engineering expertise to our division and is leading on the development of innovative software and software models for the future. As well as building this next generation software we have the responsibility, working with industry, to maintain and improve our existing computer-based wargames & simulations.

You’ll find full details at the UK Civil Service jobs site.

Applicants must be UK (non-dual) citizens. The deadline for application is August 24.

Connections US 2019 reminder

This is a reminder that the Connections US 2019 professional wargaming conference will be held at the US Army Heritage and Education Center (Carlisle, PA) on 13-16 August.


To see what to expect, see our PAXsims report on last year’s conference.

Invicta: How did war become a game?

A recent video posted to YouTube by Invicta provides an excellent 15 minute overview of the birth of modern wargaming. It’s well worth watching—I’ll certainly be using it in class.

AFTERSHOCK updates and expansions


Over the next year or so, Tom Fisher and I will be rolling out a few updates and two new expansion modules for AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game. As we develop these we are looking for your help!


We are very happy with how AFTERSHOCK plays (and users seem to be too), so we don’t anticipate any significant rule changes. However, we will be redesigning or changing some of the components, as well as clarifying a few things in the rules.

If you are an AFTERSHOCK user and you have encountered anything you feel is awkward, unclear, or could otherwise be tweaked, please drop us a line. Your input would be very helpful!

Humanitarian Assistance in Divided and Conflict-Affected Societies Expansion

Following the success of our first expansion (Gender Dimensions of Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief), we will be launching a second that examines the humanitarian operations in divided and conflict-affected societies. This will divide the Carana team into three subactors: a technocratic presidency, and two rival political groupings: the People’s Front of Carana (supporters of which concentrated in Districts 2 and 3) versus the Patriotic Union of Carana (whose constituency is found found in Districts 4 and 5). While the President will be focused on overall national goals, each of the parties will be focussed on their own constituencies and will be rivals for resources and political prestige. Otherwise, we will be using the same system of Challenge Cards we introduced in Expansion #1, allowing you to use some of both expansions in the same game, as well as new Event Cards. Local Politics cards playable by the Carana actors will add a few twists too.

Megashock Expansion

This expansion will allow you to put on 2-4 simultaneous, linked games of AFTERSHOCK, each representing a different earthquake-affected city in Carana. An additional, one additional “national” game will represent high-level decision-makers who must allocate teams and supplies across the local games. Using this expansion is should be possible to comfortably run AFTERSHOCK games with up to forty players (four games with four teams of two, plus one national game with four teams of two).

Again, we invite ideas for the expansion sets too. Our gender expansion was cosponsored by National Defense University, which contributed some funds for its development. If your organization would like to help out with one of these, let us know!


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