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Category Archives: simulation and gaming news

Peter Perla on wargame design

The following report was submitted by PAXsims research associate (and King’s College London student) Harrison Brewer.


 

1200x630bb.jpgAlmost anyone versed in wargaming will have heard Peter Perla’s name and rightly so. Perla is as close to a household name as one can get within the wargaming community, barring James Dunnigan and Avalon Hill. Perla has done it all – he has been a wargamer, a designer, a Navy defence researcher, a contributing editor to wargaming magazines, the subject of a Private Eye cartoon, and author of what could be referred to as the holy text of wargame design, The Art of Wargaming.

I first heard of Peter Perla during my conflict simulation seminar, taught by Rex Brynen at McGill University. The Art of Wargaming was one of two textbooks we used and quickly, you get a sense of how Perla straddles the schism of wargame design – is wargaming an art or a science? This question has been chasing myself during my brief experience as a wargame designer, first at McGill and now at King’s College London under Phil Sabin’s equally grand tutelage. With this in mind, I was incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to hear Peter speak at King’s as part of the Conflict Simulation module I am enrolled in.

Peter began by saying that the process of creatively interpreting historical events is the same as writing fiction – you must identify the hero, the villain, and the conflict. Wargaming is no different although the content is almost always more macabre. Any designer must first decide where the key conflict lies in the minds of the participants. Who were seen as the protagonists? Is the battle of Waterloo about Napoleon or is it about his generals? Peter emphasises that you must decide who and what you want to focus on before you begin the creative process. Secondly, no conflict is fought in a vacuum. Once you have decided who features and what they are fighting about, a wargame designer must decide what story they are going to tell. Is it about the political economy, the social tensions, the diplomatic negotiations, or the political compromise? There is no rule to understanding the context, but it is the bread and butter of any wargame and so, should be the first ingredients you find and from the best sources. Peter is a self-confessed tank man, despite his long career in the Navy, and uses the acronym TREADS to help guide any new project he embarks on. TREADS stands for time, resources, entities, actions, dynamics, and space – these elements are the building blocks of your wargame. How you connect these pieces and how you communicate them to your audience will help to communicate the story you are trying to tell.

\Next, Peter outlines his three paradigms of design, the analyst, the artist, and the architect, and explains that any wargame will have a little of each. How much or how little is dependent, once again, on the story being told. The analyst is concerned with how well your model models the real world quantitatively. It involves equations, data, mathematical modelling, and simulation – think of operational analysis. Persian Incursion is such a game, at least in its highly detailed treatment of air operations, aid defences, target hardening, and weapons capabilities. The artist wants the player to experience the emotional and intellectual challenges of the situation and is concerned with the more intangible elements of the conflict. The artist’s main design problem is how to get the tension of the actors involved to drive player decision-making – The Grizzled, a WW1 survival simulator, or the Vietnam Survival Game are good examples. The architect focuses on the structure of a wargame. What decision points will the player face and how do you build a framework that creates these decisions and lets them reflect the real-world dilemmas faced by the actors within a given conflict. AFTERSHOCK is an example of a game that has complex dilemma frameworks and a wide range of interconnecting decisions.

Peter ended by offering some words of wisdom to the fledgling game designers in the room – the importance of the ‘proliferation of complexity followed by ruthless simplification’. Every designer should make the game complex beyond belief in order to create a model that reflects the environment of the conflict before trimming and pruning it down to be as simple as possible. Whilst you are head down, submerged in memoirs, orders of battle, and statistics, it can be easy to forget that your design must be digestible by the layman wargamer. Indeed, the job of a designer is to take something complex, translate it into a new medium, and make it believable, understandable, and simple.

Harrison Brewer

Peter Perla makes Private Eye

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Peter Perla’s recent inaugural lecture for the King’s College Wargaming Network has, it seems, made it to the esteemed pages of the British satirical publication, Private Eye (larger image here).

h/t David Knowles
(former member of the famed Lymington & District Wargames Club)

They’re baaaaack! AFTERSHOCK and MaGCK at The Game Crafter

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AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game.

Having been unavailable for a few weeks, we are happy to report that The Game Crafter has new supplies of game pieces in stock and it is once again possible to order AFTERSHOCK and the Matrix Game Construction Kit.

Get yours while they last!

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The ISIS  CRISIS scenario from the Matrix Game Construction Kit.

 

We Are Coming, Nineveh! game development update

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One of the playtest copies.

Lately we have had a chance to run more playtest games of We Are Coming Nineveh, the tactical/operational-level wargame of the 2017 Mosul campaign being developed by Juliette Le Ménahèze, Harrison Brewer, Brian Train, and myself for Nuts! Publishing. It’s all coming along nicely, and feedback has been very positive indeed.

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Playtesting at Connections UK. Juliette looks on as Phil Pournelle advances Iraqi forces towards the Old City. War is thirsty work.

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More playtesting at Connections UK.

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Counter Terrorism Service and Emergency Response Division troops break into the heavily-defended Old City. To the west and north, units of the Iraqi Army’s 9th Armoured and 16th Infantry Divisions close a circle of steel around their foe.

The (area movement) map and (block-based) combat system are working very well: they are fast and intuitive, and nicely model the tempo of the actual campaign. Consequently, most of our recent tweaks involve Capability cards and Event cards.

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A game is about to begin at McGill University. Daesh has deployed most of its veteran units to the Old City, while using a screen of militia and IEDs to slow and disrupt the ISF offensive. If the ISF can cut the roads to the west and north it will hamper Daesh resupply.

The former represent what it is each side chooses to bring to the fight, above and beyond their core units. In the case of Daesh (ISIS), this includes such things as:

  • arms caches
  • IED factories
  • a media production centre
  • mortars
  • snipers
  • technicals
  • makeshift drones
  • tunnel networks and “stay behind” forces
  • primitive chemical weapons
  • “mouseholes” and fortifications
  • additional Improvised Explosive Devices of various sort
  • human shields
  • child soldiers
  • MANPADS
  • better infantry training
  • local spy networks
  • smuggling networks

As for the Iraqi security Forces, they can call upon (amongst other things):

  • additional military units (16th Infantry Division, Popular Mobilization Forces)
  • Coalition air and artillery support, as well as UAVs (drones) and forward observers
  • Coalition training
  • Iranian advisors
  • Iraqi air and artillery support
  • HUMINT (human intelligence)
  • SIGINT (signals intelligence)
  • enhanced EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) capability
  • additional ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) assets
  • tighter Rules of Engagement (to reduce collateral damage)
  • expanded humanitarian assistance operations
  • field hospital
  • improved logistics
  • improved coordination
  • airmobile and river-crossing operations
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Prior to deployment, Brian considers what additional capabilities he wants for the forthcoming battle.

Each side is given 30 points to spend on such capabilities before the game starts, and they can tailor their expenditure to suit their campaign plan and preferred tactics. This dramatically enhances the replay value of We Are Coming, Nineveh!, since every game can be very different depending on how Daesh has chosen to defend its positions and what assets and capabilities the Iraqi side chooses to deploy.

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The ISF gets lucky break: human intelligence (HUMINT) reveals the location of a senior Daesh military commander, who is promptly killed in a daring strike by Iraqi attack helicopters.

The Event cards are triggered by dice tolls during ground combat. Some generate collateral damage, especially when fighting is taking place in the densely-packed Old City. Some reflect the challenges of military operations in urban terrain: troops might get lost, pause to recover casualties, encountered unexploded ordnance, or have other encounters. Others present various tactical vignettes. Do you risk accepting the surrender of Daesh fighters, knowing there might be a suicide bomber amongst them? Do you open fire on the vehicle travelling towards your checkpoint? Does an officer risk death to rescue a child caught in the crossfire? Finally, still other cards reward success or capabilities—if the ISF has invested in improved coordination, for example, they’ll encounter fewer problems when Iraqi Army, Interior Ministry, or Counter Terrorism Service (“Golden Division”) forces attempt joint operations.

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Iraqi forces (green) clear the last Daesh units (black) out of the Old City. In this case, the ISF minimized indirect fires and air support, and instead invested in better training and logistics. Their careful campaign was slower than the real one, but kept casualties and collateral damage down.

Victory is determined by three metrics: the time it takes to liberate Mosul, the casualties taken by the ISF, and the collateral damage (both physical and political) inflicted on the city. At the start of the game, each side secretly nominates the metric that it wishes to emphasize in its political messaging. We have also built in a system of narrative description, allowing players to gauge their progress against the real military campaign.

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Juliette, Brian, Rex, and Harrison.

We hope to have the main game finalized by the end of December, at which point we will deliver it to Nuts! for further development We are also developing a solitaire system to allow solo play, but that will take a few months more of work. Keep your eye on PAXsims for further details!
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Stephen Downes-Martin joins PAXsims as associate editor

I am pleased to announce that Dr. Stephen Downes-Martin is joining PAXsims as one of our associate editors.

Stephen Downes-Martin.jpegDr Stephen Downes-Martin is a Research Fellow at the US Naval War College and is an independent scholar researching theory and practice of wargaming and other methods to support decision makers at the strategic, operational and tactical levels of warfare and business. A research focus is “Puppet Mastery”, how to manipulate such methods to deceive decision makers, how decision makers misuse such methods to deceive themselves, how to detect such attempts and protect decision makers from them. He has a PhD in relativistic quantum field theory from London University, a Master of Advanced Studies in Mathematics from Cambridge University, and a Masters (with Distinction) in National Security and Strategic Studies from the Naval War College. His full bio, publications list and downloads are available here.

Stephen has been tireless in encouraging, supporting, and sometimes lambasting the wargaming community to pay great attention to sponsor-designer relations, player dynamics, game analysis, and methodology more generally. He has been instrumental in several recent major collaborative projects, including the 2017 MORS working group report on the validity and utility of wargaming, a Connections Game Lab report on “How can we credibly wargame cyber at an unclassified level?” (2018), another Game Lab report on “How can we avoid risky and dishonesty shifts in seminar wargames?“(2018), and a truly epic Connections working group report on in-stride adjudication (2018). Stephen will also be one of the featured speakers at the February 2019 Connections North interdisciplinary wargaming conference in Montreal. We’re pleased to have him on board.

McGill megagame 2019: APOCALYPSE NORTH

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On 17 February 2019, PAXsims will be running its fourth annual megagame at McGill University: APOCALYPSE NORTH—a game of emergency response, national survival, and federal-provincial politics during a zombie armageddon.

The United States is descending into chaos as it is overrun by mindless undead abominations. Can the federal government, provinces, and municipal officials mobilize and coordinate the necessary resources to save Canada from the murderous zombie menace from the south?  

Approximately one hundred participants will assume the roles of federal and provincial politicians, the Canadian Armed Forces, the RCMP, Canadian Border Services Agency, the Coast Guard, Public Health Agency of Canada, the Ontario Provincial Police, the Sûreté du Québec, local mayors, police and fire chiefs, hospital officials, scientists, First Nations and community leaders, the media—and even local franchisees of a national doughnut chain.

Tickets for the event may be purchased via Eventbrite. APOCALYPSE NORTH can also be found on Facebook here.

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As with all McGill megagames, we’re playing this for fun. Nevertheless, the emergency preparedness aspects of the game will be quite realistic, combining elements of a refugee crisis with pandemic response, national defence, and public safety. Grrr arghhh, eh?

For details of the New World Order 2035 megagame held at McGill in February 2016, check out the reports at PAXsims, as well as this article published in the McGill International Review. For the WAR IN BINNI megagame held at McGill in February 2017, see this PAXsims report. For the DIRE STRAITS megagame held in 2018, you’ll find a report here.

APOCALYPSE NORTH is cosponsored by the McGill International Development Studies Students’ Association.

 

IDSSASSA

AFTERSHOCK at the Université de Technologie de Troyes

The following game summary was provided by Gilles Deleuze, a sessional lecturer at UTT.


This session was organized as part of the 2nd year of Master IMSGA (Master Ingénierie et Management en Sécurité Globale Appliquée), and the “Crisis Management” chair of the UTT (Université de Technologie), in the Grand Est region of France. The 12 students have a background in industrial safety, political science, firefighting.

This was the first time AFTERSHOCK was used in a training course in UTT, and probably in France. The aim was to focus on importance of coordination, logistics and communication during emergency management. At another level, it was an opportunity for a discussion about serious gaming and its benefits in the Master IMSGA and training for Crisis Management.

French rules translation and aids were used. Two tables were organized in parallel. On one table, the facilitation was done by a peer, with some experience of the game. Eventually, there were some misunderstanding of the rules, and the facilitator proposed to stop the game at turn 2 and join the other table

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10.00 : Start, 10.30:  Turn 2, 10.50 : Turn 3, 11.25 : Turn 4, 12.00 : Break, 13.00: Restart Turn 5, 13.30 : Turn 6, 13.45 : End of session

At the other table,  the facilitation was done by the session lecturer, with experience of the game. After a round for explanation, the game went right.

The root causes of the success, are the high lelel of coordination since the beginning, especially between UN and HADR-TF, the strategy of Carana, investing a lot on clusters, which permitted to draw valuable coordination cards, and a some luck, as very few district resolutions were drawn at the beginning, especially for the semi rural area, which was voluntary left aside in the emergency policy. Also the players took care of media attention.

The debriefing led to following conclusions and proposals for an efficient use of Aftershock in the Master IMSGA at UTT

  • Require a gamemaster with experience dedicated to each table.
  • Not very fun at the beginning, then the players liked the challenge to achieve together the success of the mission.
  • Prefer to learn by playing rather than reading the rule book (too complex and long to read before the game, maximum 10 pages for a rule set in this context).
  • The game highlights the importance of cooperation. The players were very cooperative and succeded with an high margin
  • Realistic, good level of modeling of logistics issues, but a price to pay in complexity
  • Good for an initiation to crisis management before an exercice with more actors and software based simulator done during the Masters.
  • The « hardware » support permitted more interaction between players and a global view of the situation compared to a software based simulator
  • Strong agreement to continue in the next year courses especially before the large scale crisis exercise.

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Wargaming Network at KCL

DrUh2x9X4AAKpPo.jpgThe recently-established Wargaming Network at King’s College London has announced its inaugural lecture on 4 December 2018, by none other than Peter Perla:

Inaugural Wargaming Lecture

Dr Peter Perla, ‘The Art and Science of Wargaming to Innovate and Educate in an Era of Strategic Competition’

What can we know about pressing security challenges through wargaming? How do we know?

To mark the establishment of a new Wargaming Network, the School of Security Studies is launching a public lecture series on wargaming. The lectures will examine fundamental challenges for adapting wargaming theory and practice to usefully address contemporary security problems facing the UK and its NATO allies.

The UK and its NATO allies have revived their interest in wargaming as a tool for strategic, operational and technological innovation in a new strategic environment marked by the return of major power competition. While the value of wargaming as a method for learning and teaching is well-accepted, its value as an rigorous academic method of inquiry is still largely contested.

Dr Perla will re-examine the fundamental theoretical debate of whether wargaming should be considered an art or a science in the context of the changed security environment. The aim of the talk is to bring wargaming theory and practice to a new multi-disciplinary epistemological ground that would enable its useful contribution to advancing knowledge, informing policy and furthering education.

Prof Wyn Bowen, Head, School of Security Studies, will deliver the welcome address and Ms Ivanka Barzashka, Wargaming Network, will chair the discussion.

Details and registration for the event can be found here.

By happy coincidence I’ll be in London that day and able to attend, so look forward to an eventual lecture report at PAXsims.

You can follow the activities of the King’s Wargaming Network via Twitter.

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Simulation and gaming miscellany, 29 October 2018

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

PAXsims

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At the Modern War Institute (US Military Academy) website, Garrett Heath and Oleg Svet offer some thoughts on wargaming within the US Department of Defense. Col. Heath leads the Studies, Analysis, and Gaming Division at the Joint Staff, which manages the Wargaming Incentive Fund and supports the Wargaming Repository. Dr. Svet (AT&T) is a senior defense analyst who supports SAGD and the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Each month we analyze new and updated Repository information in order to produce a report that we share with over five hundred government officials of the Defense Wargaming Alignment Group (DWAG). Each report highlights results from multiple recently completed wargames and a listing of upcoming wargames. These reports provide wargaming community members from across all the services, combatant commands, and other DoD organizations with useful information and situational awareness for planning purposes. Perhaps most important is that members gain information that leads to contributing and participating in wargames that they were not previously aware of, but align with topics their organization is interested in. In addition, members share information that they submitted to the Repository during biweekly DWAG meetings. These meetings provide a venue for participants to elaborate on Repository information and begin collaboration on upcoming wargames. During most meetings, we have witnessed firsthand how—just as DoD senior leaders had envisioned—the Repository enables inter-service and cross–combatant command cooperation and collaboration that helps in the development of wargaming concepts and plans, as well as dissemination of wargame lessons learned and results.

To answer the second question, we examined how well games aligned with senior leader priorities and to what extent leaders were involved. Between May 2016 and August 2018, WIF supported fifty-four wargames, which account for 20 percent of all wargames in the Repository during that period. The scenarios for these games addressed the top priorities in the National Defense Strategy that the Secretary of Defense announced in January 2018. The strategy’s principal priorities are China and Russia, while its secondary priorities are North Korea, Iran, and counterterrorism. Our analysis showed that 68 percent of game scenarios focused on peer competitors (the principal priorities in the strategy); and 24 percent looked at rogue states (the secondary priorities). Ninety-two percent of games have been directly aligned with the National Defense Strategy priorities and the most pressing needs of department leaders. The remaining 8 percent focused on topics outside of these priorities but relevant to national strategy. For example, high-level political and military officials from a wide variety of our partners have participated in wargames. These games supported the second line of effort of the strategic approach outlined in the National Defense Strategy, which is strengthening alliances as we attract new partners.

Wargame results were being shared up the chain to influence senior level decision making. Nearly all, fifty-two of fifty-four, WIF-funded wargames’ results, high-level insights, and lessons learned were briefed to senior leaders. Additionally, 32 percent of these games involved direct participation of general and flag officers, or members of the Senior Executive Service. Many of these games had profound impacts. The majority of game results are classified; however, an unclassified example of how a WIF-funded wargame informed senior-level decision making is TRANSCOM’s contested environment wargame. In April 2018, the top commander of US Transportation Command testified to Congress that his wargame revealed critical security vulnerabilities and that lessons learned “drove changes in how we plan for attrition, cyber, mobilization, authorities, access, and command and control.” Instances like this where a commander directs a game and uses the results in his or her decision-making process speaks volumes about the value and need for the WIF.

PAXsims

CF09Mag.jpgThe latest issue of CounterFact Magazine features a Joe Miranda-designed wargame exploring modern war in a megacity:

War in the MegaCity is a simulation of a fight for a city in the near future. It covers conventional, unconventional and civil disturbance operations. One player controls Government forces, the other the Insurgents.Designed by Joseph Miranda

War in the Megacity (WMC) is a simulation of hypothetical near-future battles fought in metropolitan areas with populations of 10 million or more. The objective is to show the spectrum of operations–conventional, special operations and unconventional–in this type of fighting on the grand tactical level. There are two sides, both controlled by one player, in WMC: the Insurgent player, who wants to seize control of the city. Opposing him in that effort is the Government player. The Infowar Index is central to play. Each player has an Infowar Index, which indicates how successful his is in achieving his goals–representing the amount of overall public support each side is getting.

Each game turn represents from two days to two weeks of real time, depending on the tempo and scope of the activities conducted in each one. The various units represent force sizes–most either task-organized or spontaneously generated–varying between battalion and brigade sizes: anywhere from about 500 to 5,000 total personnel.

The Game Map shows a megacity and its environs. The large rectangular boxes are called sectors. Each sector is named after the predominant structure within it or the main activity conducted across it. Players organize and move their units within the sector boxes.

Separately, Ty Bomba posted some thoughts on “The (Im)Possibility of War in the Mega-City” on the CounterFact Facebook page:

Given the phenomena of “casualty aversion” that’s overtaken Western societies since the end of the Cold War – that is, a general unwillingness by electorates to sustain any government prosecuting a war longer than one election cycle or bloodier than a relative handful of total deaths – and it can be seen it’s effectively impossible for us a society to engage in that kind of war.

The only exception would be if the stakes involved were readily perceived by a majority the electorate as truly and fully existential at the national level. In turn, to get to that level, you have to posit near science fictional scenarios, such as the Chinese landing en masse along the US west coast or armies of Jihadis surging into Europe’s cities. Short of such epochal hypotheticals, one is hard pressed to name any mega-city anywhere on Earth the control of which would be important enough for a US administration, or that of any other Western democracy, to be willing to sacrifice so much to get it.

Mega-city wars will therefore likely remain the domains of criminal gang turf fights and civil wars fought among groups with nowhere else to go. Until such time as aerial and ground drones and autonomous robots are further perfected, no Western democracy can make war effectively in mega-cities.

That in turn led Brian Train to offer his own thoughts on the subject at his Ludic Futurism blog:

I find I cannot disagree with what Ty has written here, having read some time ago all the articles and papers he cites, and more besides. Yes, we will not see the entire rifle-company strength of the US Army and Marine Corps squandered in an enormous mega-Aachen, or even a restaging of the Second Battle of Seoul (not least because Seoul is ten times the size it was in 1950). Ridiculous notion.

Ty published the designer’s notes to the game over on Consimworld some time ago, wherein Joe seems to be walking back the game’s initial impression that you are fighting a massive, primarily kinetic battle for a huge city (wherein Fallujah or Grozny would fill only three or four of the map’s 30 abstract sectors). He uses the triple-CRT, units-rising-and-falling-in-strength method first done in James Dunnigan’s game Chicago-Chicago!, and reused by him in LA Lawless, Decision Iraq, and by me in Greek Civil War (this last by order of Decision Games, though somewhere in between my submission and eventual publication there were a lot of changes to both my game and to Joe’s system, including collapsing the 3 CRTs into one, and radical changes in unit typology and abilities). He also speaks of the ridiculous troop-to-space ratio in a city of 10 million or more, but does note that the troop scale in the game is brigades (thousands of uniforms) vs. crowds (tens of thousands in size); even the guerrilla units are estimated to be a thousand or more fighters (though in fairness, because it’s a Joe Miranda near-future game, there are also small detachments of “”Fifth Generation” troops whose weaponry, and sometimes their own physicality and mental states, have been enhanced by leading-edge technologies.”).

But I added the emphasis in Ty’s penultimate paragraph. Megacities will not be the arenas where entire brigades and divisions square off against each other, but they will see a great deal of low-level irregular conflict, by and among irregular forces, who will be opposed much of the time by uniformed forces in modest amounts. However, I do not share his enthusiasm for autonomous robots.*

Joe and I are on the same wavelength on a lot of things, but often we differ considerably in our design approaches to the same kind of problem. To my mind, a more realistic and sobering pair of books to read on this subject are Planet of Slums by Mike Davis and Out of the Mountains by David Kilcullen (especially his chapter on the Tivoli Gardens operation in Kingston, Jamaica). What would be interesting from my point of view would be a game in a megacity that emphasized limited intelligence, surveillance, building and degrading organizations, positioning and threats, information warfare, for both insurgent and counterinsurgent. All precursors to kinetic operations, which are kept to a minimum. So far the megacities in the world that have experienced problems severe enough to see actual conflict involving their national militaries have all been outside of NATO, and the conflicts have all been pretty one-sided; government moves in against insurgent gangs, they scatter obligingly and civil disorder continues, though turned down to a dull roar until the uniforms leave and the gangs return.

I tried to do this in one of my first games, Tupamaro, which took place entirely within one large city (1.5 million, which was kind of large for 1968). And maybe that’s more typical of what went on in Baghdad (pop 6-7 million, give or take) for years. This was my thinking in developing the “Maracas megacity” module for the District Commander system over the last couple of years, available here for free PnP at least until Hollandspiele publishes it some time in the next few years.

It all makes for some thought-provoking reading.

PAXsims

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The Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation has released an “online first” article by Donald Brown et al on “Design and evaluation of an avatar-based cultural training system.”

The need for cultural training for members of the military, and supporting government and industrial organizations, has become more important because of the increasing expectations of effective collaborations between people of different cultures in order to achieve common security objectives. Additionally, the number and mix of countries, and cultural groups within those countries, make traditional classroom training less feasible. While good simulations have been built for cultural understanding, they have not been developed widely or used for pre-deployment training. This paper describes and evaluates an avatar-based game for pre-deployment training. The game is built around two scenarios from the Afghan culture: a market scenario, and a local leadership council scenario. The game also allows participants to reverse roles and play the part of an Afghan interacting with an American solider. To evaluate this avatar-based game, we developed an experimental design to test the effectiveness of the game versus commonly used video instruction, and to test the effectiveness of role reversals in training with games. Results show that participants trained with the avatar-based game had significantly improved understanding of Afghan culture (p<0.01p<0.01). However, role reversal did not improve performance. Additionally, responses to a questionnaire showed that participants in the avatar-based game had a much greater appreciation for their understanding of the Afghan culture than the more video-trained control group.

PAXsims

Ed Farren is developing a simple two player counterinsurgency game, Viva La Revolution. The print-and-play version will be available on BoardGameGeek, and an online version can be found for Tabletop Simulator on Steam.

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It looks very good, and we hope to review it here at PAXsims in the near future.

PAXsims

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The International Organization for Migration recently held another one of its simulation exercises on cross-border mass migration, this time in Niger.

More than 500 members from communities, local authorities, civil society and security forces participated in IOM’s fourth crisis simulation exercise this week (17/10) in Tillabéri, Niger.

The exercise took place in close partnership with the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Humanitarian Action and Natural Disaster Management, and the Ministry of Health in Niger.

The exercise was organized under the project Engaging Communities in Border Management in Niger – Phase II, funded by the US Department of State. This was the fourth simulation exercise organized by IOM in Niger, having previously held similar exercises in 2017 and 2018 – two in Zinder region and one in Agadez region.

Tillabéri, site of this latest exercise, lies in a region covering southwest Niger which is regularly affected by population displacement flows. After the internal armed conflict in neighbouring Mali in 2012, over 50,000 Malians sought refuge in Niger. More recently, intercommunity clashes and the presence of terrorist armed groups in Niger triggered the internal displacement of more than 32,000 Nigeriens.

As with previous exercises, the simulation this week used a scenario conducted under real-life circumstances to test local and regional authorities’ ability to respond to a mass migration movement into Niger, precipitated by a crisis at the border.

This was the first time IOM Niger organized a simulation exercise on the Niger river, which entailed new logistical and coordination challenges. The new setting allowed for new actors to be involved in the exercise, such as the Gendarmerie’s River Brigade and the Environmental Services.

In addition to building the capacities of the authorities in responding to cross-border crises, the simulation exercise also enhanced community involvement in crisis management, as communities from the surrounding area played the roles of both displaced populations and of welcoming community….

PAXsims

Chris Bennett of the Game Design Thinking Research Group at Stanford University asks “How Do You Create Paper AI?”

One of the challenges of board games, and especially more sophisticated historical simulation games, is finding the opponents and the time to play. In the past decade or so, we have seen a shift in the hobby towards games that support more robust solitaire play. But until more recently, most solitaire play felt very luck based, and seemed to have little strategic thought behind it. In short, it rarely felt like playing against a “real” player.

But in 2010, GMT Games published ‘Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001-?’ by game designer and CIA national security analyst Volko Ruhnke. And as part of this card-driven two-player boardgame about the complex political and military nature of the War of Terror, there was an option to play the game “solo” using a paper AI to tell the human player what to do in various situations….

You can read the full item at the link above.

PAXsims

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Earlier this month, the G20 Health Ministerial Meeting in Argentina featured a drug-resistant E. Coli pandemic crisis simulation, as part of an international effort to tackle antimicrobial resistance. According to the UK government:

The governments of the UK and Argentina will lead on the exercise to test G20 world leaders on how they would tackle the spread of an infection that is resistant to antibiotics.

The crisis simulation will put ministers in a fictional scenario where an E. Coli outbreak that is resistant to antibiotics spreads across borders, putting public health, livestock, trade and travel at risk. The exercise takes place today (Thursday 4 October) at the G20 Health Ministerial Meeting in Mar del Plata Argentina.

The simulation will test leaders’ and countries’ ability to act quickly if antibiotic resistant bugs cross borders and lead to a pandemic affecting global public health, placing pressure on health systems and the economies of the fictional countries involved. It will be led by Chief Medical Officer for England Professor Dame Sally Davies and Argentine journalist Dr Nelson Castro.

The exercise will raise awareness and understanding of the key challenges of AMR, and encourage G20 ministers to ensure countries are doing everything they can in the global fight against superbugs.

The aim is to help governments across the world confront difficult issues around reducing antibiotic resistant bugs, including how to reduce the overuse of antimicrobial drugs, while making sure patients who need them have access to them….

You’ll find further coverage at the Daily Mail.

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PAXsims

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Can you do better than Theresa May and the British government as they try to negotiate an exit from the European Union? Bloomberg gives you a chance to find out in their online Pick-Your-Own Brexit Game.

PAXsims

Last month we posted a report on RAND’s Will To Fight project. At the Bravo Zulu blog, Mountain Navy offers some additonal thoughts:

…Wargame designers may benefit from the Will-to-Fight Model (p. xx) presented in this study. It certainly provides a different way of looking at those factors that affect a soldier on the battlefield.

My own reaction to the study is mixed; I like the model but shake my head ruefully at the games selected for study. If nothing else, maybe Will to Fight will give another generation of wargame designers and publishers a chance to assist the military and create a better war fighting force. I can only wonder what designers and publishers like Mark Herman or Uwe Eickert or Volko Ruhnke, or even small start-up companies like Covert Intervention Games think as all in the past or presently support government or military gaming.

 

 

A Very British Coup: A game of political negotiation

The following piece has been written for PAXsims by Jim Wallman of Stone Paper Scissors. A Very British Coup was run at the recent Labour Party conference in Liverpool, where it attracted some press attention. You’ll also find additional details on Jim’s blog, No Game Survives


Late in 2017 I was approached by Richard Barbrook of Digital Liberties to design a political megagame for UK Labour Party activists to practice negotiation skills and practice balancing ideology and pragmatism.

A primary inspiration for the game was to come from Chris Mullin’s political thriller A Very British Coup, published in 1982 and depicting a fantastical scenario of a principled and popular left-wing labour leader (Harry Perkins) sweeping to power in an unexpected election victory as a discredited and failing Tory government collapsed under a plethora of scandals.  The action of the story was all about how the  ‘The Establishment’ – the bête noire of the Left – comprising, press barons, the old boy network, the security services and the military, egged on by Foreign Influences (a Republican-led USA) would conspire to bring down a popular socialist government by subversion, foul means and fake news.  The book was dramatised by Channel 4 in 1988, and I well remember enjoying it immensely at the time.  Clearly a fantastical scenario.

avbc-player-guide-cover.jpgDesigning a purely political game has a number of issues that affect the megagame design.  In this case the main design aim was a game that would be accessible to non-gamers, or at least people for whom the only board game they would have heard of would be Monopoly.  In addition the game should maximise negotiation to give the players the chance to not only negotiate but to experience, directly in the game, second (and even third) order consequences of their negotiations.  Something that the players might rarely get to do in a safe-to-fail environment.

The chosen game theme was especially appropriate – we did not want to divert or distract players into current political arguments or rivalries – so setting the game safely in the 1980s meant that whilst the background was familiar enough, it was also possible for a player to role play a faction that might not necessarily represent her current political perspective.  The key to the game was to be negotiation, after all.  It was also for this reason that the game simplified and adjusted the 1980s setting – the aim was not for the game to be a detailed political simulation but a negotiation game themed on that topic.  This allowed better game balance and player agency (although the ‘unhistorical’ aspect did worry a tiny minority of older players who remembered the 1980s, some of whom seemed to still want to refight those old battles!).

The first step, of course, was to build the game environment and a number of experts in the history of the Labour Party in the 1980s helpfully created a list of Labour ‘Factions’ who would represent the majority of the player teams.  Of course only having Labour Factions as teams would miss the important element in any game of an active adversary – an adversary adds that important element of pressure and tension into the game.  The scenario described in the eponymous book has some very clear adversaries.  So it was obvious from the outset that the primary dynamic of the game would be a number of Labour party factions negotiating and interacting, with a smaller group of ‘Establishment’ player teams providing challenges and attempting to exacerbate the infighting and bring influence to bear to de-rail the left-wing legislative programme.

But what would the Factions be negotiating about? What would be the role of the Cabinet? How would players interact with each other?  These are (and were in this case) key game design questions.  It is not enough to just have players in the room talking to each other – they must also be making meaningful decisions and taking in-game actions that have in-game consequences.

And this is also the point where any megagame design has to, almost inevitably, part company with the narrative of a novel, play or film that inspired the game theme.

To be at their best, megagames have to be open-ended rather than scripted, and the participants must be given real agency in the game.  So whilst the game can be inspired by a novel it cannot (and should not) attempt to become a re-enactment of it.  This is an important aspect of game design – works of fiction are not (or at least rarely) amenable to good gamification straight out of the pages.  It is important to remember this.  Just because characters exist in the fiction does not necessarily mean they would have agency in the game context – often they do not.

As part of my research I re-read the 1983 Labour Manifesto, and the description of the real aspirations of a fairly leftish party of the time (or ‘far left’ by comparison to the Blair years).  This was the context of Mullin’s original story, where it was the Perkins’ Government’s programme of ‘dangerious left-wing dogma’ that the Establishment was trying to counter.  So it seemed obvious to me that a key focus would be on implementing the manifesto.  Party Faction teams would therefore be arguing and manoeuvring to have their favoured policies enacted as early as possible in the life of the government. The game then tracked, for each policy, its Impact, Cost and Outrage scores.  Balancing these three factors to get the most impact with the least cost or outrage (from the right wing press) was the core game metric, although there were other factors such as the popularity of the policy with party members, MPs and the Trade Unions.

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Photo credit: Stone Paper Scissors.

It also quickly became obvious that the Cabinet would not be played by players because this would erode the role of the faction teams as the main drivers of the game (remember the game aim of maximising the opportunity for practicing negotiation skills).  So the game would have the various factions seeking to influence and ‘control’ non-played cabinet members, and use that as leverage in the important game process of setting the legislative agenda.  Control of a Cabinet member would increase the influence a faction had, particularly in Parliament – but control could be challenged and other factions could use their influence to gain control instead.  The struggle to influence the Cabinet was the second main activity for player teams, both within the Labour Party and the Establishment (who could bring the old boy network into play too).

The game, for the Labour Factions was on four levels and members of the teams were expected to manage their time to work on multiple levels simultaneously:

  • Influencing Cabinet – and the (non-played) Cabinet members whose influence weighs in significantly in the game on behalf of the faction.01 AVBC influence cards
  • Influencing the order that policies are enacted in parliament. The game timescale covered several years, because although a week is a long time in politics, legislation grinds slowly. And the measures that get passed have all have Impact (for good).
  • Influencing the vote in parliament, both directly and indirectly.The weakened Tory Opposition was still present (and played) in parliament so there were opportunities for cross-party agreements.
  • And at the same time agreeing compromises and deals with the other factions to get things done.

The aspect of time management and team coordination are also important parts of the game experience.  Teams who were able to manage themselves well, found the game easier.

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Photo credit: Stone Paper Scissors.

Obviously, the Government (represented by the collective activities of the Labour Faction teams) as a whole would get little or nothing done, unless it could manage its infighting and cut deals – ‘log rolling’ if you will – the game allowed players to have a lot of fun with doctrinal and principled arguments and infighting.  And that is entertaining in its way.  But, unless they find ways of pulling together, the party’s impact is small, and consequently its public support dwindles under the constant assault of a hostile press.  Too many individual victories could lead to group defeat, and an early General Election (= A Bad Thing).  And this was the point of the game – illustrating that holding on to a position dogmatically meant that policies failed to become enacted (in the game) – and players learnt though emerging gameplay that the only way they can achieve sufficient impact as a government is by finding common ground and compromising. This is a non-trivial challenge, but one that is obviously mirrored in the real world.

The Establishment Adversaries in the game also influenced the progress of legislation and the impact of government by:

  • Influencing Cabinet members (through the old boy network, blackmail or other dirty tricks)
  • Influencing the Impact of legislation (through the old boy network and the civil service legislation could be delayed or diluted due to ‘technicalities’)
  • Influencing the public popularity of the government (through the media power of the Press Baron team).

However, the Establishment teams also had their own negotiation and communication challenges.  One of my main changes over the original novel was to make how the Establishment works a little more realistic – so rather than a monolithic extra-democratic power bloc envisioned in some of the more paranoid fears of the left in the 1980s in this game they are a good deal less efficient and also have their own internal pressures, objectives and concerns.  Organising resistance to the new Government’s policies has to be in the context of resolving their own internal factional issues. Whitehall has often been described as ‘a loose association of warring tribes’.  Hence in this game the Establishment is more ‘Yes, Minister’ in feel. This opens the game up to negotiation between the Establishment and the Labour factions on specific issues where there are common interests.  This made the game a lot more nuanced and interesting for all the teams.

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Photo credit: Stone Paper Scissors.

The value of the game, which has been run several times now, is in the way it highlights this conflict between factional perspective and wider objectives.  Players in the game often find that the first couple of turns the government is pretty ineffective as the infighting leads to watered down or low-impact policies being enacted, or even legislation failing to be enacted at all. As the game progresses the players realise (usually) that more can be achieved by compromise, careful communication and even a bit of mutual trust and respect.

Far from being a game to teach the Labour movement to ‘defeat’ those who would oppose it from within the party and/or from the so-called ‘Deep State’ this game encourages players to practice the skills that are practical and useful is defusing internal conflicts and finding common ground and consensus.

Finally a couple of anecdotes from previous games illustrate how a very simple game system can produce some interesting emerging gameplay:

  • The Head of MI6 arrested for treason as a result of a falling out within the Establishment teams (instigated by the Head of MI5).
  • The Cabinet Secretary (manipulated by the Police) causes Press Reform to be brought to Parliament earlier than planned (much to the consternation of the Press Baron) but because nobody was ready it failed to pass (much to the delight of the Press Baron).
  • A Faction of the Labour Party (Fabian Society) was on the brink of being expelled from the Party, when everyone realised just how bad that would look, and the teams found a compromise.

Jim Wallman

 

 

 

 

Wargame Designers Series: Peter Perla

As part of their Wargame Designers Series, Columbia Games interviews Peter Perla (author of the seminal Art of Wargaming).

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 16 September 2018

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

PAXsims

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Landpower: GAAT has been made available for free in print-and-play format, via BoardGameGeek.

Landpower: GAAT (the Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey scenario) is a wargame designed by LTC Patrick Schoof at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and used for instruction in academic year 2018.

Landpower is designed to drive both sides to plan and conduct sequential operations in a large scale combat environment. Many parts of shaping and combat are intentionally abstracted to allow the intended training audience to focus on appropriate decisions at the division echelon as a division commander and staff. The mechanics of the game are intentionally minimized above and below the echelon of decision. A well-planned operation with its events synchronized usually works most of the time. A poorly planned large scale operation will likely result in failure. Friction is intentionally built in! Landpower was designed to meet educational learning objectives while still being able to stand alone as a wargame. Because of this, most of the instructions ask the reader to treat the conduct of it as an exercise. In the classroom, Landpower is not about the game, but rather the discussion the wargame elicits.

The exercise is conducted over a series of days. Each day is broken down into four, six-hour turns. During the turns each side will have opportunities to conduct operations to achieve their side’s objectives.

The scenario in Landpower is conducted mostly in Azerbaijan based on the GAAT (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey) terrain. Each hex is roughly 6.5km across. The terrain has been abstracted for the division echelon of decision with consideration given to possible second order effects of a particular feature’s inclusion or exclusion from the exercise. For example, the terrain at 39°56’42.3″N 48°21’00.4″E was treated as urban, and the northwest-southeast road was omitted because it would not change operations, though the bridge was retained.

Elsewhere at BGG, Eric Walters comments:

Glad to see this finally available on Board Game Geek–thanks to U.S. Army CGSC. For the DoD crowd, it’s also available via milBook on the Serious Games group.

The die-hard wargamers will be honestly not very impressed with what they see; it’s a very, very basic tactical move and shoot game, with supporting arms/Multi-Domain warfare handled via the use of cards. But understand that most of the officers have never even seen a board wargame, much less played one, and it’s a good entry-level venue to learn how to execute tactical courses of action in an admittedly crude way. Things we take for granted as board wargamers are completely new to most of the officers. It’s also not hard to want to “bolt on” other things onto the basic game, such as Armenian organizations, a Marine Expeditionary Brigade, etc.

Best of all, it’s relatively uncomplicated as far as wargames go and plays quite fast!

Regarding the debate on how useful the game is, much depends on the desired learning outcomes. As a faculty member of U.S. Army Command and General Staff College (as well as a long-experienced wargamer), it fills the bill for what we need for the classes we teach. That said, I can understand why someone would say, “That’s it? That’s all there is?” Yes, there should be more. Absolutely. But we as faculty are constrained by the amount of hours devoted to particular subjects, so we typically move on to other fields of study mandated to us. Our hope is that our officers are sufficiently intrigued so that they’ll continue investigations into a deeper understanding through self-study. It doesn’t happen often, but it occasionally does happen. It’s a fair criticism to say that there’s not enough reinforcement and enhancement of such experiences, both within the school and beyond it.

PAXsims

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All of the conference presentations from the recent Connections UK 2018 professional wargaming conference are now available from the Connections UK website.

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PAXsims

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The latest issue of the Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation 15, 4 (October 2018) is now available online.

PAXsims

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The Military Operations Research Society will be holding a Cyberspace Wargaming and Analytics workshop on 23-25 October 2018 at MITRE Corporation (McLean, VA):

The primary objective of the workshop is to collaborate on data, models and wargaming best practices plus lessons for current cyberspace wargames and operations. This includes describing the current state, clarifying gaps and developing solutions for cyberspace operations data, models and wargaming. This event is FREE to US Government Civilian and Active Duty personnel.

The workshops are geared to span the spectrum of wargaming experience from the novice wargamer, who want to increase their knowledge of wargaming techniques in the training working groups, to master game designers, who want to share and increase the wargaming body of knowledge within a cyber context.

The keynote speaker will be John T. Hanley Jr., Ph.D. Dr. Hanley is currently an independent consultant working on strategic studies and gaming. He served as the Deputy Director for Strategy Management in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence during the period March 2010 to March 2012. His responsibilities included developing a strategic assessment process to inform top-down guidance and create shared vision, values and strategies within the Intelligence Community, bringing strategic thinking to strategy-to-budget processes, and leading the Galileo Program to promote and reward innovation within the IC. For his full bio, visit http://www.mors.org/Events/Special-Meetings/Cyberspace-Wargaming.

There will also be a game night at the DoubleTree by Hilton McLean Tysons in place of the traditional special meeting social. This event will allow attendees not only the opportunity to socialize but also games and techniques in a fun, inviting setting to add to their repertoire. The game night will be $15. Game night attendees will be provided light fare and a cash bar is available as well. Attendees can expect a number of wargames at various levels. These will include single play/opponent games as well team or multiplayer games.

For further information and registration, go to MORS website.

PAXsims

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A new (German) Eurogame entitled Manitoba is drawing fire in Canada for its depiction of First Nations culture. CBC News reports:

A totem pole in Manitoba? German board game accused of stereotypical portrayal of Indigenous people

Board game called Manitoba features depictions that are inaccurate and offensive, game enthusiast says

“Manitoba” is a product of German company DLP Games. Some Manitobans are upset about the game’s stereotypical ideas of Indigenous people. (DLP Games )

A German board game called Manitoba is drawing a lot of criticism for the way it portrays the culture of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.

The game, called Manitoba, is a product of DLP Games.

“This game is set in the Canadian province of Manitoba with its green hills and majestic mountains, large lakes, endless prairies and forests,” the English-language version of the game’s instructions state.

“It deals with the life of the inhabitants in harmony with the different seasons and the capriciousness of nature.

“Players represent different clans of the Cree Indians, taking care of the material progress as well as of the spiritual development of the clan. At the end of autumn, all clans finally come together to determine the new chief from the clan that has progressed the furthest!”

Ross says the game’s artwork is problematic as it’s an inaccurate depiction of indigenous peoples in Manitoba. (DLP Games )

The artwork accompanying the game includes images of a totem pole and other imagery that is not part the cultures of Manitoba’s Indigenous Peoples.

The game has drawn heavy criticism on the BoardGameGeek online forum.

Governor General’s Award-winning writer Ian Ross is an Indigenous board game enthusiast and the founder of the Winnipeg Board Game Club.

Though the artwork is problematic, what some people have found most troubling is the game’s portrayal of Indigenous spirituality, he told CBC News.

“I think for some people, that’s the real sticky point, the thing they find most egregious, is the commodification of our culture,” he said….

You’ll find the full article at the link above.

The issue of cultural representation in boardgames is an interesting and sometimes controversial one, and—time permitting—is something we hope to return to with a broader discussion at PAXsims in the future. If you might want to contribute, let us know.

PAXsims

Jentery Sayers is teaching a course on “paper computers” —board games—at the University of Victoria this fall:

This seminar follows that low-tech disposition. We’ll survey the pasts of paper computers and their entanglements with literature. We’ll visit Special Collections to study some pertinent media, such as artists’ books, moveable books, machine-woven books, miniatures, cards, boards, and zines. Then you’ll select an “-ism” (e.g., imagism, constructivism, or thingism) and use it to prototype a tabletop game. We’ll discuss the dynamics that bridge aesthetics with mechanics, including how games rehearse legacies of colonialism and capital accumulation. What alternatives exist, and how are they made?

We’ll play some games as we go, and read a smidgen of fiction and history, too.
From week to week, we’ll ground it all in design practices: bookbinding, 3D modelling, fabricating, and playtesting, for example. Various guest speakers will join us. By the end, you should develop a palpable sense of how this becomes that with a computer—but without running culture in the background.

h/t former UVic wargaming club colleague Brian Train

PAXsims

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Continuing with Brian Train references, he is the guest in an excellent recent episode of the Harold on Games podcast.

THIS podcast is singularly composed of an interview with prolific game designer and insurgent provacator, Brian Train. We will discuss the myriad of games he brought with him to ConSimWorld Expo and his future plans.

PAXsims

The dates for the Connections Oz wargaming conference have been confirmed: 10-12 December in the Hatchery at the University of Technology, Sydney. More details here.

PAXsims

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More from Down Under—the Australian Army’s professional development website The Cove contains another quick decision exercise: Takistan Raid.

PAXsims

A recent business article the Financial Post discusses “war game techniques to get you through this age of disruption.” Judging from the image they use to illustrate the piece, some of these involve the use of a sword.

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PAXsims

Patrick Ruestchmann has provided a revised map and player aid for Tim Price’s Earthquake! matrix game. You’ll find the files appended here. Many thanks, Patrick!

PAXsims

WATU wargame report

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On September 8, volunteers from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, the Royal Navy, the Royal Canadian Navy, and PAXsims paid homage to what may have been the most consequential wargaming of World War Two: the work of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit. WATU contributed greatly the development of anti-submarine tactics, and also taught more than five thousand British and allied escort officers during the war. Most of those wargamers were women too.

The event was hosted by the Western Approaches war museum and held in the map room of the wartime headquarters of Western Approaches Command: an underground bunker beneath the Exchange Building (Derby House) in Liverpool. During the war, WATU had operated from an upper floor.

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Setting up the plotting map. The screens on the right prevent the escort commanders from seeing the map, except when permitted to peek through small visors. Red filters in these prevent them from seeing the U-boat tracks.

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The plot viewed through the visor. U-boat tracks are not visible.

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The screen from above, with the tables for the escort commanders beyond.

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Nefarious U-boat commander Tom Mouat (Defence Academy of the UK/PAXsims).

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Some of our lovely simulated Wrens.

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Pre-game briefing.

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The WATU wargame underway. The convoy, escort, and U-boat positions are being plotted on the floor, while escort commanders plan their next moves beyond the screens.

The game started with U-305 (U1 on the plotting floor, commanded by your scribe) having penetrated the escort screen on the surface at night, and attacking from within the convoy. One ship went down, and I ordered my vessel to submerge to periscope depth and to turn slightly to run under the convoy.

Meanwhile, U-501 (U2) approached on the surface from outside the screen, hoping to attack while the escorts were distracted.

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The U-boat commanders smile as they celebrate their first sinking of a merchantman.

Alas—or fortunately, depending on your perspective—it wasn’t to be so. As soon as the first ship was hit HMCS Ottawa (L3) made a high-speed dash into the convoy, and ran straight into the still-submerging U1, which it had not yet spotted. The damage was enough to force U1 to the surface. I ordered my submarine to run close alongside the Canadian destroyer, hoping her guns would not be able to depress sufficiently to engage my much smaller vessel. My own 88mm deck gun fired into the escort at close range, and a spread of my remaining bow torpedos damaged HMS Starling (L1) as she approached to assist. However, soon U1 began to sink. I ordered the Enigma machine and codebooks thrown overboard, and we abandoned ship.

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Image of a WWII WATU wargame in progress. Note the plotting of the convoy, escorts, and submarines on the floor, as well as the screens.

 

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WWII WATU wargame in progress. Wrens point out ships and current situation for officers viewing through screen.

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Meanwhile, U2 fired a spread of torpedos into the convoy, sinking one freighter. Its lookouts failed to notice a Royal Navy destroyer (O1) bearing down her through the dark night until it was almost too late, however. Fregattenkapitän Mouat ordered a crash dive, which was soon followed by the thunderous explosions of depth charges overhead. With a drive shaft damaged, the wily Moaut ordered that oil be vented and rubbish discharged through the torpedo tubes to suggest his vessel had been destroyed. HMS Vanquisher was having none of that, however, and continued to drop depth charges. U2 would eventually be sunk with all hands.

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U1 sunk, U2 under attack.

As this was ongoing, U3 (Brynen) approached from the front of the convoy submerged, while U4 (Mouat) proceeded on the surface well ahead of the convoy to report its location to Kriegsmarine headquarters back in Germany. These transmissions were picked up by HF/DF (High Frequency Direction Finding), and minutes later U4 itself was spotted on radar by HMCS Orillia (P1). Mouat turned slowly, and then proceeded south at top speed, hoping thereby to draw off escorts before eventually submerging and doubling back.

U3 continued to creep forward, until it was within 1500 yards of the convoy. It then fired two pairs of torpedoes from its forward tubes. A short while later hydrophones reported more explosions as two merchantmen were hit. The wolfpack had now sunk four ships in the convoy, and damaged two escorts.

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The plot. U4 (bottom) has just begun its dash south with escorts in pursuit. The white markers indicate the depth charges dropped by O1 on U2, while U3 is nearby, having just fired torpedoes and turned.

…and there we had to finish as the day came to an end.

We all had a terrific time, and the 130 visitors who passed through the museum while the wargame was underway seemed to find it all very interesting too. It was particularly gratifying to meet with the daughter and granddaughter of wartime wargaming WATU Wren officer Laura Janet Howes.

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The daughter (right) of WRNS officer Laura Janet Howes poses with a card summarizing her mother’s wartime career.

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The commander of HMS Vanquisher points to the last resting place of U2.

Enormous thanks are due to the Dstl team that made this all happen, and especially Sally David and Paul Strong. Emma Stringfellow (Big Heritage) and the rest of the Western Approaches museum staff were terrific hosts, happily putting up with twenty or so of us moving things around, talking loudly, and even playing ASDIC noises and dive alarms. The screens produced by Alfred Chow (Maker of Things) were perfect for the task. Steve Cowan recreated the HMS Tactician/WATU crest, which was emblazoned on the shirts of many of the wargaming crew, and on commemorative mugs available in the Western Approaches gift shop.

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I would like to personally thank Cmdr Jeffrey McRae (Royal Canadian Navy) from joining with the Royal Navy in marking the occasion, and taking on the role of an escort commander (HMCS St Croix). Some five hundred Canadian naval officers were among those trained by WATU during WWII, and a similar tactical training unit (modelled on WATU) was established in Halifax in 1943.IMG_0297 copy.jpg

The WATU wargame is an excellent tool for teaching about wargaming, operations, research, the Battle of the Atlantic, and the contribution of women during WWII. Visitor after visitor expressed how interesting it was, and how analysis, gaming, and outthinking an opponent all converged in the kind of work WATU did. I certainly hope this becomes at annual event at the museum, and the Dstl and RN volunteers who made it happen are able to organize similar events elsewhere in the UK.

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The Dstl/RN/RCN/Defence Academy/PAXsims crew, including nefarious U-boat captains Mouat and Brynen.

Finally, if you are in or visiting the Liverpool area, go and see the Western Approaches museum (where, for a limited time, you can get your very own HMS Tactician/WATU mug). They’ve done a terrific job rennovating the facility, and it is well worth a trip.

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RN officers demonstrate appropriate protocol for carrying a simulated Wren.

The STRIKE! Battlegroup Tactical Wargame

STRIKE is a wargame developed at the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory for the British Army, to enable them to examine novel tactical concepts to use with the UK’s new Strike brigade. The following piece was shared with PAXsims by STRIKE’s chief developer, Mike Young.


The British Army is being equipped with a new generation of fighting vehicles that will provide the core combat elements within the new Strike Brigades.  The vehicles are an 8 wheeled infantry transport platform known as the Mechanised Infantry Vehicle (“MIV”) and a family of vehicles based around the AJAX platform.  The British Army was keen to understand how the Strike Brigade would perform on the battlefield so commissioned a series of manual wargames to examine their operational effectiveness.  I facilitated at these wargames and produced the STRIKE! wargame as a result.

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STRIKE! is a detailed tactical level game, based around one inch square counters each representing a platoon of 3 or 4 vehicles. There are counters to represent all the fighting elements of the Strike Brigade as well as an Armoured Infantry Brigade on the Blue side, and a full mechanised brigade and an airborne battalion on the Red side.  The game also represents helicopter and engineering assets and, if required, has an alternative Red ORBAT with less sophisticated equipment.  Three large hex maps of different terrain types have been produced to go with the game along with a scenario booklet, enabling many different tactical situations to be examined.  The hexes on the map represent an area 500 metres across, and each game turn represents half an hour of real time.

The counters display a unit ID, movement, firepower and protection details.  A detailed set of rules is provided, although after a PowerPoint brief  the players were able play the game using a single A4 quick reference sheet to calculate combat results.

The reaction to the game was extremely positive and enthusiastic, with all six copies of the game being eagerly received by the customer.

As the customer said:

It is absolutely AWESOME. I am so pleased. They had it manufactured professionally and have written fantastically clear rules, crib cards, notes, ORBAT sheets etc. They have missed nothing. Thank you very much indeed for organising the project. This is going to be hugely helpful for the Brigade and I hope that we will be able to spread the word across the Armoured Infantry Brigades too.

Capt H J B Jordan LG | SO3 Experimentation | STRIKE Experimentation Group

We expect the British Army to make great use of this new analytical game that Dstl has developed, and look forward to designing and facilitating many more wargames with them in the future.

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Getting ready for the WATU wargame

The Western Approaches war museum (Liverpool) has announced it:

The components are being made:

And, if you can’t wait, you can always try out the BBC’s Western Approaches Tactical Unit online browser game (requires Flash) from a few years ago.

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