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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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Defense One: Better wargaming is helping the US military navigate a turbulent era

DefenseOne.jpegDefense One features an article by COL Garrett Heath (Studies, Analysis, and Gaming Division at the Pentagon Joint Staff) and Oleg Svet (senior defense analyst, STAG) reviewing US Department of Defense efforts over the past three years to revitalize and expand wargaming. The piece includes an update on both the Pentagon’s wargame repository and the  Warfighting Incentive Fund grants.

The Repository has already proven its worth and will continue to benefit future generations of wargamers. WIF’s annual $10 million has enabled wargames that otherwise would not have occurred, revealed critical gaps, supported 3-star and above decision-making, and contributed to finding solutions to vulnerabilities that the Department was not previously aware of.

At present, the demand for WIF funding exceeds the supply, and its administrators will strive to select the best games that support decision making by the department’s senior leaders, explore its most pressing challenges, and support the National Defense Strategy. Wargames are uniquely positioned to foster judicious decision-making, especially among senior defense leaders, because by design they incorporate active adversaries, the effects of partners and allies, and the use of disruptive technological within the operational landscape. In other words, they simulate a truer-to-life depiction of future wars than other types of analytical activities cannot. Analytical wargames achieve outcomes that in the real world would endanger lives and possibly cost untold sums; stress-test commonly-accepted concepts of operation; allow participants to design innovative solutions to mitigate risks; and ultimately enable our nation to stay ahead of our adversaries. Senior leaders and action officers alike know the unique value of analytical wargames, and it is vital that they have the resources and the tools they need to take advantage of this practice.

You’ll find the full article here.

h/t Nigel Jordan-Barber

Distilling wargaming wisdom at Dstl

The following report has been cleared for release by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (public release identifier DSTL/PUB110424).


 

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The legendary Dstl coin holds off RED forces on the outskirts of a small village.

At the end of June I spent a very pleasant week at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory in Portsdown West (Portsmouth), discussing various topics with members of the wargaming team there and others. I made similar visits in 2016 and 2017, and—as with the earlier occasions—this trip was very stimulating, productive, and enjoyable.

Monday

Day 1 of my visit started with a presentation on wargaming and forecasting (slides/pdf). Wargamers often intone that “wargamers are not predictions,” largely so that clients and participants will not hold games to an unreasonable standard of predictive accuracy. However, while wargames do not generate detailed findings about the future, they do contain an element of prediction in that they are usually intended to explore plausible futures. Assessing that a future scenario is plausible is, after all, an act of forecasting in itself.

Dstl Forecasting

Given this, the literature on political forecasting offers some guidance as to how games might be better configured to increase foresight. I also suggested that wargames were best used as an adjunct to other forecasting methods (helping us to identify key junctures, challenge assumptions, and encourage discussion) rather than a method in and of themselves.

This was followed by a second presentation on ethical challenges in wargaming (slides/pdf). Here I addressed three major themes:

  • The use of serious games to teach about ethical decision-making, the laws of armed conflict, and similar topics.
  • The use of games to explore the dynamics of mass atrocity and human rights abuses, so that we might develop appropriate policy responses.
  • Finally, I discussed some of the ethical issues that might arise in game design and facilitation.

I was especially pleased with this presentation, since it raised issues that have not been discussed much within the professional community. How should games address sensitive issues such as religion and ethnicity? How can a game explore topics like torture, mass atrocity, or sexual and gender-based violence without having adverse effects on participants who may have had personal traumatic experience of such things? What is our ethical obligation to produce high quality games, given the implications of our work for policy or war-fighting? What is our obligation to produce games that have positive moral effects—and what should we do if we believe a game design might be put to unethical purposes? Interestingly, I was not the only one in attendance who had refused work from a client because we were uncomfortable with who might be using a game and what it might be used it for. (This is, of course, a rather more difficult choice if working on wargame design as a government employee.)

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Much of the latter part of the session involved case studies to which members of the audience were invited to respond. How does one deal with player humour that might be seen as insensitive or offensive by some, given the game scenario? How does one incorporate issues of (countering) sexual exploitation and violence in wargames given the possible effects on players who have experienced the same in their personal or professional lives?

Next, came a session devoted to gaming indirect social media and cyber effects (slides/pdf). I started off by warning that not everything is new under the sun, and that communities and combatants alike have always leveraged new information and communication technologies to enhance their influence and effect. Certainly, the digital age had made it easier to do this, and to reach more people faster than ever before. However, the magnitude of this change might sometimes be exaggerated.

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Maj. Tom Mouat (Defence Academy of the UK) and I then moved on to discussing a variety of interesting games and game mechanics that might be adapted to explore such issues. These included:

 

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Demonstrating influence dynamics in Hostage Negotiator.

Tuesday

The second day of my visit largely involved me participating in, and commenting on, other people’s wargames, which is always an enjoyable task. In the morning, our focus was matrix gaming. I made a quick presentation on the status of the Matrix Game Construction Kit, then Tom facilitated a session of the High North matrix game. This went very well, with Russia, the US and Canada all using environmental concerns to project their regulatory influence well beyond their established Exclusive Economic Zones. Chinese efforts to meddle in a Greenland independence referendum went badly wrong, while “the spirit of capitalism” pursued a variety of economic opportunities as the polar ice cap slowly receded due to global climate change. The session provided ample opportunities to discuss both matrix game design and game facilitation.

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Gaming the “High North.”

After lunch, we discussed support for RAF wargaming. As part of this, Flt. Lt. Colin Bell (RAF) demonstrated three educational games he has developed for training cadets. I particularly enjoyed his air logistics games (in which players must move personnel and supplies using a variety of air assets to various locations, in response to randomly-drawn mission cards), and a game that explored mission planning and execution for offensive and defensive air operations. Playing a few turns of the latter, we lost a few Typhoons in our fighter sweep ahead of our main force but came out slightly ahead in air-to-air engagement. A heavy concentration of radar targets suggested an impending inbound enemy attack on our air defence command centre, so we ordered two other fighter groups to reposition themselves to respond. Meanwhile, we had two strike packages headed towards our target—an enemy destroyer, docked in port—when the game had to be brought to an early end.

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RAF wargaming—teaching about air logistics.

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More RAF wargaming. Strike package inbound!

Wednesday

Day three of my visit involved a morning spent at Dstl’s annual historical analysis symposium. My own paper explored strategic communications, signaling, and deterrence in the specific context of Syrian use of chemical weapons (slides/pdf). Here I drew upon both the scholarly literature on deterrence and the findings of wargames to suggest how it is that what one side regards as a robust signal of capability and credible commitment might be seen rather differently by the recipient—in part because each side operates in a very different organizational and political context.

Dstl Communications

Wednesday evening was spent at the mess of HMS Excellent, the Royal Navy “stone frigate” (shore establishment) on Whale Island, Portsmouth. After dinner, not surprisingly, we all turned our attention to some less serious gaming. While some of the group plotted to assassinate Hitler in Black Orchestra, the rest of us played Bloc by Bloc. I’m happy to report that fascism had a bad day: Hitler went down in the former game, while in the latter a progressive revolutionary coalition of workers, students, anarcho-neighbours, and prisoners brought down the repressive state system.

Thursday

The fourth day of my trip was wholly devoted to a day-long workshop on wargame adjudication (slides/pdf). In the morning, Tom and I started with a presentation on the topic, drawing upon our own experience. Adjudication runs along a spectrum from rigid (rules-based) to free kriegsspiel, with matrix games and hybrid approaches somewhere in between. Adjudication also varies depending on whether game play is turn-based, continuous, or a mix of these.

I suggested that wargame facilitators and adjudicators stand astride two essential mandates, sometimes complementary, but also sometimes in tension: that of the technician (committed to attaining the technical goals of the game) and the theatre director (responsible for bringing alive the imaginary world of the game narrative).

After lunch, we collectively discussed two recent Dstl games and the adjudication challenges each had presented. We then broke into smaller groups, and discussed how we might address a number of game adjudication vignettes:

  • Dealing with an adjudication error in combat resolution. Do you rewind the game, admit the error but press ahead regardless, or hide the mistake from the players?
  • What sort of adjudication would be most appropriate for a game intended to examine security planning for a forthcoming high-profile diplomatic visit, and why?
  • How should one deal with a (more senior, male) SME who is persistently pestering a (junior, female) player with criticisms of the game system?
  • How might adjudication approaches be configured to better withstand sponsor pressure to reach predetermined conclusions?

Interestingly, almost all of the participants felt that an adjudicator should cover up a minor error during a game if the mistake had no major game-changing effects and if informing players would “break the bubble” of narrative engagement—only disclosing the glitch after the game was over, depending on the participants and client. I concur and have done it myself, but I know others who don’t and wouldn’t. The issue was one that was further debated at the Connections US wargaming conference a few weeks later, during a session on in-stride adjudication.

Friday

The last day of my visit involved a trip to the Maritime Warfare School at HMS Collingwoodfor a playtest of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit naval escort game. PAXsims has extensively covered the work that Paul Strong and Sally David have done on WATU and its impressive contribution to World War Two naval tactics and training, and it was an absolute delight to see how it all worked.

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Playtesting the WATU wargame.

During the playtest, I commanded one of the Type-VII U-boats attacking a convoy headed from Liverpool to Halifax. I did well, using the darkness to maneuver within the convoy formation and torpedoing three merchantmen before ordering a deep dive and hard turn to port to evade the now-alerted escorts. Initial depth charges fell well wide of their mark, but a couple of escorts did manage to ping my boat with ASDIC and had turned course towards us.

Just then, explosions at the far side of the convoy signaled that another German submarine had found its prey—hopefully distracting them while I dived even deeper and headed to the rear of the convoy. My intention was to surface once the action had passed me by, and then use my deck gun to finish off any damaged ships that were straggling behind the main formation.

We had to bring the game to an end at this point, but I must say it went well for an initial playtest. I think all of us who were there were very proud to be recreating a great moment in wargaming history. Sally Davis has also written up a brief account, which I have also posted to PAXsims.

The WATU wargame will be demonstrated at King’s College London in September, during the Connections UK wargaming conference, and shortly after that in a special session at the Western Approaches Museum in Liverpool. I am especially looking forward to the latter—an opportunity to conduct a WATU game in the very rooms used to command the North Atlantic convoys during WWII.

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Before I left, Dstl presented me with both one of their rare challenge coins (see picture at top) and a copy of  their STRIKE! Battlegroup Tactical Wargame. Dstl has developed this manual wargame for the British Army to help it examine how the Strike Brigade would perform on the battlefield—we will be providing more detail on the game in a future PAXsims article. At McGill University I intend to use STRIKE in my conflict simulation course next year to illustrate fundamental elements of basic wargame design (such terrain and capability modelling), so you may see some after action reports here too.

 

Wargaming Wrens redux

The following report was prepared for PAXsims by Sally Davis and has been cleared for release by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (public release identifier DSTL/PUB110424). All photos are © IWM or © Crown Copyright.


In late June, a small invasion force landed at HMS Collingwood to test-play a recreation of ‘the game‘ used to teach convoy escort tactics at the Western Approaches Tactical Unit during 1942-45.

It was rather good fun! Rex Brynen and Tom Mouat played the dastardly U-Boat captains, sank a handful of convoy ships and were on the verge of a depth-chargey-comeuppance when we ran out of time. Here’s the after-action debrief.

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Left, above: The RCN tactical table at HMCS Stadacona, Halifax (which adopted the WATU game for Canadian naval training).

Right, above: The Dstl tactical table at HMS Warspite, early on in the game.

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Left, above: WATU 2nd Officer Wren Jean Laidlaw tells Lt Cdr Tooley-Hawkins, “You’re here, sir, and Jerry just sank your battleship!”

Right, above: The Dstl peeping experiment: our escort commander player (centre, between the screens) is looking at the map through a red filter, rendering the U-Boat tracks invisible. We don’t think WATU used red filters, but their screens and peep-holes achieved a similar effect.

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Left, above: The convoy has just altered course to port. Rex’s U-Boat is right in the middle of the convoy, the white markers are where our gallant escorts depth-charged him, but he went deep and evaded damage. The red straight-line in from the bottom right is Tom’s U-Boat creeping in on the surface, hoping to take advantage of a poor look-out at the other end of the action!

Right, above: A few more turns and we’d have something similar to the original game.

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The Dstl “Wrens.”

Next stop(s): the Connections UK professional wargaming conference (London) on the 5th September, and the Western Approaches Museum (Liverpool) on the 8th September. A huge shout out to everyone who played, helped with the pre-play-test-testing, or has expressed an interested in the Liverpool event!

Review: GridlockED

GridlockED. The Game Crafter, 2018. Project leader: Teresa Chan. $89.99.

Back in 2016 PAXsims reviewed Healthy Heart Hospital, a rather tongue-in-cheek hobby boardgame about managing staff and treating patients in a for-profit hospital. GridlockED is also about patient management in a busy hospital, but with a rather more serious purpose. Developed by a team of faculty members, researchers, and students at the Division of Emergency Medicine at McMaster University, it is designed to teach medical students and others serious lessons about triage, patient flow, and treatment. This article from the journal Academic Medicine explains the thinking behind the game.

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The goal of the game is to survive 8 turns and accumulate 500 points (from admitting and discharging patients) without suffering more than two patient safety adverse events. A number of patient cards are drawn randomly each turn. Each present a patient’s symptoms, and the medical steps necessary to address these so that they can be sent home or admitted for ongoing treatment. CTAS (Canadian Triage and Acuity Scale) Category 1 and 2 patients must be stabilized quickly before additional examination or treatment can occur. CTAS 3-5 patients can wait in the Waiting Room until staff and appropriate beds are available. The patient descriptions are excellent—we certainly learned a great deal about emergency room procedures.

The players start with a four nurses, a doctor, resident, radiologist, and consultant. Points can be expended on additional staff or beds as ward upgrades. Random events in the patient deck through unexpected challenges (for example, a needle-stick injury to a staff member) and the occasional bonus (such as a grateful former patient bringing treats!).

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The game includes the main game board and waiting room; patient, event, and staff cards; dry erase markers; and staff pawns—all very nicely produced. A brief quickstart guide explains some key game procedures, and an online video (below) provides a longer introduction.

The absence of a comprehensive rule set was our only major quibble with the game. The printed guide omits some key information, and it is awkward to advance through the video in search of a rule explanation which may or may not be there. We had a few specific questions:

Must a staff member complete all their actions before another staff member may act? Or can you switch back and forth between staff until all staff actions have been expended? (They may swap back and forth.)

When rolling for additional patients on some turns, do you simply add d6 patients to the base number indicated? (Yes, just add the score of the die.)

When spending an action to move a patient, must the nurse token move with the patient? (No, just move the patient.)

Card E15 mentions a “Observation Zone,” which doesn’t exist on the game board. (This should read “Intermediate Zone.”)

The video seems to show the players with 300 points on Turn 1. Do they start with some points? (No they don’t—the video is a little ambiguous.)

However, as you can see from the answers above, Teresa and the GridlockED team were quick in responding to our email queries—clearly they are used to dealing with emergencies. Revised rules are in the works, and will appear in a future version of the game.

All-in-all, GridlockED has much to offer as a pedagogical tool for medical training. It also nicely illustrates how a relatively simple board game can be used to explore practical real-world challenges.

 

 

Supporting PAXsims

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PAXsims is a volunteer, non-profit project. We do have a few expenses from time to time, however—Wordpress hosting, the CONNECTIONS NORTH annual conference, and support for various PAXsims gaming projects.

Some regular readers have asked how they can help, so we have set up a Patreon page where you can now make a small monthly donation. Any funds received will go to supporting our work on conflict simulation and serious gaming—and the creation of more great content on the website.

Lindybeige on WATU

Nikolas Lloyd—better known as popular military historian Lindybeige on YouTube—has produce a video on the important wargaming of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit during WWII.

Here on PAXsims you can read Paul Strong’s paper on WATU, as well as about the WATU wargame recreation that we will be conducting (with Dstl and the Royal Navy Maritime Warfare Centre) at the Western Approaches museum in Liverpool on September 8.

h/t Peter Perla

WATU wargame at Western Approaches war museum, September 8

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On Saturday,  8 September 2018, volunteers from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, the Royal Navy Maritime Warfare Centre, and PAXsims will be at the Western Approaches museum in Liverpool to recreate a WWII convoy escort wargame, of the sort conducted by the Western Approaches Tactical Unit.

This will be a unique opportunity to see the gaming techniques that helped turn the tide of the Battle of the Atlantic—and to honour the work of Captain Gilbert Roberts and the women and men of WATU. Hope to see you there!

2018 WATU WAM Poster 2.1

 

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 13 July 2018

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

PAXsims

The Connections US professional wargaming conference will be held at National Defense University on 17-20 July. Several of the PAXsims team will be there. We will have AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game and the Matrix Game Construction Kit (MaGCK) on display during the games demonstrations, and there will also be an opportunity to play We Are Coming, Nineveh! (The Battle for West Mosul, February-July 2017) or to discuss other games that are in development. Be sure to say hello!

If you miss us at Connections UK, members of the PAXsims team will also be at Connections UK in September, the Serious Games Forum (Paris) in December, and/or Connections North in February.

PAXsims

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The “NATO Engages” public outreach component of the recent NATO summit in Brussels features an audience-participation simulation/seminar game/discussion on cybersecurity:

Cyber Crisis Simulation

Ambassador Sorin Ducaru , Special Adviser , Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace
Carmen Gonsalves , Head of International Cyber Policy Department , Kingdom of the Netherlands; Co-chair, Global Forum on Cyber Expertise
Tanel Sepp, Head of the Cyber Policy Department, Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Estonia
Moderator: Diana Kelley , Cybersecurity Field Chief Technology Officer , Microsoft

Concerns about cyber security have skyrocketed as governments, economies, and societies increasingly depend on the internet and digital technologies. The increasing number of cyber-attacks also places new pressures on top of long-existing coordination difficulties when EU and NATO countries find themselves in need to respond to a cyber-driven crisis. The scope and sophistication of modern cyber-attacks require quick, interoperable responses throughout all strategic and logistical layers, from the political leaderships to civil services to the private sector. The objectives of this cyber exercise will be to highlight challenges in decision-making and response procedures when facing a crisis situation caused by a cyber-attack; to identify what capabilities help the decision-making process and multi-stakeholder intelligence sharing; and to improve cyber awareness among the participants as well as highlighting lessons learned and best cyber practices. A panel of practitioners will be asked to respond in real-time to a realistic cyber crisis scenario unfolding in a fictional country. The audience will be asked to play an active role during this exercise by commenting and voting on the most convincing response options presented by the panelists as the crisis scenario evolves.

There is no word yet if the next NATO summit will include a simulation of diplomatic chaos within the alliance sparked by the unpredictable leader of a major NATO country.

PAXsims

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While on the subject of NATO, are you looking for an overview of the recent Supreme Allied Command Transformation urbanization wargame final planning workshop? Well, we’ve got that!

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Still more NATO stuff: Simon Fraser University recently conducted its 2018 NATO Field School and Simulation.

The SFU-NATO Field School and Simulation program is a 12 credit intensive upper-level Political Science course that combines coursework with experiential learning. The program will be open to universities across Canada and provides the opportunity for students to observe and engage military personnel, policy advisors and diplomats in their workplace. This includes visiting and embedded experts from the Department of National Defence, the Canadian Armed Forces, NATO and academia, as well as high-level briefings at NATO HQ, SHAPE, and the Canadian Delegation to the European Union.

The cohort will attend familiarization visits at Canadian Armed Forces bases in Western Canada, then travel to NATO HQ in Belgium for a week of briefings by NATO officials. At the NATO Defense College (NDC) in Rome, the cohort will do four days of a professionally run NATO-simulation (NMDX) with NDC mentors and Senior Course curriculum. The 2018 field school will also visit the Canadian Battlegroup in Latvia, and NATO’s Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence in Riga.

Details regarding the 2019 programme will be posted later to the SFU webpage.

PAXsims

The Australian Army professional development website The Cove features a recently-posted paper by Callum Muntz entitled “Gamification: Press ‘START’ to Begin.”

Gamification uses proven techniques to influence human behaviour, is used by big businesses the world over, and is an ever-growing industry (Pickard 2017). Most military training is dull, dry, and uninteresting – but it doesn’t have to be so. Gamification can be used to enhance the Army’s training, and should become a consideration in the Systems Approach to Defence Learning (SADL). Yu-Kai Chou’s Octalysis model could be considered a worthy starting point for improving Army training with Gamification.

Elsewhere at the website, you’ will also find a quick decision exercise, Takistan Ambush.

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PAXsims

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At Medium, “Oscar’ uses the Matrix Game Construction Kit and a repurposed game board from Labyrinth to produce Crashing the Gates: An Ad-Hoc “Wargame” Scenario About Migration.

PAXsims

 

WATU in the war diaries of A.F.C. Layard

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The Western Approaches Tactical Unit, Liverpool. The wardroom crest appears to have been taken from the WWI-era S-class destroyer HMS Tactician. During WWII, a T-class submarine sailed under that name, using a different crest (depicting a chess Knight) but the same motto (“checkmate”).

 

PAXsims has been closely following the research being done by Paul Strong and Sally Davis on the Western Approaches Tactical Unit, the pioneering group of (predominately female) RN/WRNS wargamers led by Captain Gilbert Roberts who played such a major role in developing anti-submarine tactics and training naval officers during World War Two.

The latest account comes from Commanding Canadians: The Second World War Diaries of A.F.C. Layard, edited by Michael Whitby and published by the University of British Columbia Press in 2005 (footnotes have been removed below for clarity). Commander A.F.C. Layard was a Royal Navy officer who was assigned to the Royal Canadian Navy for much of the war. He first attended the tactical school in September 1943:

Monday, 6 September 1943 – Liverpool

Arrived at Lime Street at about 0700. No taxis but eventually got a lift from a Wren in a small navy van to H.M.S. Mersey where after some difficulty I got a cabin and some breakfast. Apparently I ought to have asked for accommodation.

At about 0730 I went to Derby House and saw Gardner, who has been put ashore on account of deafness, and fixed up that I should take passage out to Canada in an escort leader that gives me a few days leave after this course. I then walked to the cathedral and found there was a special 4th war anniversary service at 1100, which I attended. A great many people there. F.O.I.C. [flag officer in command] read some prayers, an Air Marshal read the lesson, and the Bishop of Wilkesley preached a good sermon. Among the hymns we sang was “John Brown’s Body,” which was somewhat unusual. Back to the Mersey for lunch. This is really a T124 training depot with a certain amount of spare officers’ accommodation. In the p.m. I read and slept in my cabin. Put a call through to J. at 1900, which eventually I got through at 2000. The accommodation here is pretty seedy, but I suppose good enough. Nice sunny day.

Monday, 6 September 1943 – Liverpool

After breakfast I checked in at Derby House at 0900 for the Tactical Course. There are some 25 of us ranging from myself, the only Commander, down to Mids. R.N.V.R. Scott Thomas18 is one of us. The Director is Capt. Roberts, 33 who is a v. good lecturer but v. theatrical and, of course, would like you to know that he was 75% responsible for the recent defeat of the U-boat in the N. Atlantic. He’s probably right and is certainly thought very highly of here. The Deputy, Jerry Cousins, shouts while he lectures so that you are quite stunned. We had a certain number of lectures, and we began the first game where I am S.O. of the escort. I immediately began to feel woolly and helpless, but much as I dislike displaying my ineptitude I’m sure this course is going to be first class value. We lunched at the Derby House canteen and who should Scott and I meet there but Air Commodore Ragg who we knew in the Vivacious days at Kyrenia in Cyprus as a Flight Lt. After packing up at 1700 I went to Liver Building about pay and travelling expenses, and then Scott and I had early supper at the Mersey and then went out to a cinema and saw some mediocre sort of film.

Tuesday, 7 September 1943 – Liverpool

A lecture and then two hours of the game, which came to an end at lunch time. With a good deal of help from the staff I managed alright as S.O. G.N. Brewer was in the bar at Derby House having just had the Egret sunk under him by the new German gliding homing bomb. Sounds most unpleasant. Raymond Blagg was also there, and he took me across to a sandwich bar close by for lunch. In the p.m. more lectures and a summing up of the game. Went to the Derby House canteen for tea and then returned to the Western Approaches Tactical Unit and spent about ¾ hour reading A.C.I.s [Atlantic Convoy Instructions] and thinking about the night attack game we play tomorrow when I am S.O. again of the syndicate.

Back to Derby House and called on Commodore Russell who is Chief of Staff. He greeted me with “What have you done to be sent out there?” which seems to imply it is a God awful job. Collected Gardner from his office and brought him back to the Mersey for drinks and dinner. He, Scott, and Marjoribanks sat talking afterwards.

Wednesday, 8 September 1943 – Liverpool

After a bit of preliminary discussion we started in on a night encounter exercise. I was S.O. of our syndicate and had Eardley Wilmott for Staff Officer. Lunch at the canteen and then on with the game until about 1500 when it was summed up. My side didn’t do too badly. We then had a short lecture followed by a demonstration on the board of the sort of search operation that support groups are carrying out in the Bay of Biscay, and finally Roberts gave us a few remarks on the new German weapon, the glider bomb. Scott and I went back to the Mersey and shifted and at 1800 it was announced that Italy had surrendered unconditionally. Grand news. Scott and I then went to Derby House and met Ragg and his wife in the Senior Officer’s Lounge where we had drinks. There were all the big shots. The A.O.C. [air officer commanding] (Slatter), another Air Commodore, F.O.I.C. (Ritchie), and the Chief of Staff, Russell. Finally the Raggs took Scott and me off to the Bear’s Paw for dinner. He is an extremely nice chap, but she is developing into the typical senior officer’s wife. They have no children, which is probably her trouble. We walked back to the Mersey where we said goodbyes, and Scott told me the tale of his disappointment at being passed over after all the high ups had more or less told him he was a cinch for it.

Thursday, 9 September 1943 – Liverpool

I think one way or another I had a bit too much booze last night and my brain is feeling a bit woolly. On arrival at the Tactical School we were first shown the layout of the big and final game, which covers a period from an hour before sunset to sometime at night. There are 2 convoys, a carrier, and a support group. I am S.O. escort of our convoy. We then withdrew and decided on our policy, what the support group should do, and what the aircraft should do, etc., and then at about 1000 we started the game. I didn’t have very much to do, but there was a flood of signals and a lot of plotting to do. Chavasse and I were bidden to lunch by the C. in C., Admiral Sir Max Horton, at Derby House. Some Captain who was also there told Chavasse he had just been awarded the D.S.O. for some convoy fight which he had conducted successfully some months ago. The conversation at lunch consisted of the C. in C. pumping Chavasse about his new B.D.E. rather late. We stopped at about 1630, by which time in the game it was practically dark. Scott and I had tea at the Canteen, and then I returned to the Mersey and shifted and listened to the 1800 news. We have made another large scale landing near Naples. In spite of the Armistice we are still meeting fierce opposition from the Germans who are now estimated to have 18-20 divisions in the country. Walked to the Adelphi where I met Raymond and Venetia, and they gave me dinner. They have found a house up here and so will be leaving Little Orchard for good very shortly. Sad.

Friday, 10 September 1943 – Liverpool

A beastly hot day when Liverpool looks its very worst. At the Tactical School we carried on with our game, which today became a night encounter. I didn’t have a great deal to do as S.O. of my convoy owing to the brilliant way in which Chavasse’s support group rode off the U-boats. We finished at about 1600, and then we were taken down to the Plotting Room at Derby House and shown around. Scott and I then had tea in the Canteen and then I walked back to the Mersey and shifted and then went back to Derby House, called for Gardner, and we both caught a train to Crosby. Hector Radford who came out for a short trip with us in the Broke had asked us to drinks and supper. It turned out to be quite a big party because in addition to ourselves and Radford’s three sisters, there was an R.N.V.R. 2 striper, the old “pilot” on D’s staff and his wife, a naval padre, and three small children. We had a terrific supper. The table before we started looked rather like the food advertisements in American magazines. Quite a good party. Gardner and I caught the 11:16 back to Liverpool. The news from Italy seems confused, but the Germans seem to be fighting us and the Italians and they claim to have sunk an Italian battleship which was trying to escape from Spezia.

Saturday, 11 September 1943 – Liverpool/Prinsted

I got up early and did my packing before breakfast. It was pouring with rain when I walked to the Tactical School. The whole forenoon was spent summing up the big game, which was most interesting, and at 1200 we broke up. A first class course for which Roberts deserves full marks. Went to Derby House and had several at the bar before having lunch. I then went to the Exchange Station and after waiting some time managed to get a taxi, which I shared with 3 other people who agreed to go to the Mersey and pick up my gear and then go to the Lime Street Station. I caught the 1400 train to London and was lucky to get a seat as the train was crammed before it left. Got to Euston just before 1900 and so went to the station restaurant and had dinner and then got a taxi to Waterloo and caught the 8:45 to Havant. Joan met me there with the car, thank God, at 2215 and we drove home. A hot muggy day.

Layard attended a second WATU course in December 2013:

Monday, 13 December 1943 – In the air/Liverpool

We touched down at Prestwick [Scotland] at about 0830 after a 9½ hours’ trip. I couldn’t have been more comfortable. After checking up papers, customs, etc., I had a shave and a wash and then some breakfast. Didn’t feel a bit hungry. I tried to fly on to Liverpool but as there was nothing going I was taken to Kilmarnock station in a car and I caught a 1030 train to Liverpool. There was a heavy frost all over the country and I had a long cold wait at Carlisle. Eventually got to Liverpool (Exchange Station) at about 1700 and took a room at the Exchange Hotel. Feeling rather sorry for myself. Perhaps the height and the oxygen is something to do with it. I rang up J. soon after 1800, but as I didn’t know my plans we couldn’t decide whether or not she should come up. Turned in early.

Tuesday, 14 December 1943 – Liverpool

Feeling very much better I’m glad to say. I went along to the Tactical School and reported to Roberts just before 0900. At 1200 after a lecture the rest of the course went to finish off the first makee train game, and so as I had missed the start yesterday I went over to Derby House and saw the Chief of Staff – MacIntyre. I thought perhaps I could do a bit of the course and also do a bit of discussion with other support group S.O.s, but there don’t seem to be any support groups in just now. Lunched at the Derby House officers’ canteen and saw Gardner and his wife – now a 3rd officer Ciphering Wren. In the p.m. we had more lectures and a short plotting exercise, after which I went to Liver Building and made some enquiries about ration cards and warrants. Back to the Exchange and rang up J. again, who said she was coming up tomorrow – whoopee!!! At lunch time I met Smitty in the Bar. He has left Whaley and is now Fleet Gunnery Officer up here with an acting brass hat. He came to dinner with me at the Exchange and we had a long chat. He told me Peter Knight had been killed in Sicily a few months ago. I am sorry. Poor Bob Knight!!

Wednesday, 15 December 1943 – Liverpool

Clocked in at the school at 0900 and after our lecture we started a night battle game. I was bidden to lunch with the C. in C. with a 2½ striper, a 2 striper R.N.R., and a French naval officer who are all doing the course. C. in C. was very affable. Went on with the game in the p.m., summing up, and had one more lecture. I went back to the hotel and shifted and then went along to Lime Street Station to meet J’s train due at 6:30. It was ½ hour late and when it came in no J. Met Ragg at the station also waiting to meet his wife on the London train due 7:10, which I now imagine J. is catching. This train is known to be hours late and so we adjourned to the new British Officers Club at the Adelphi and had some drinks. It is a very nice place. As the transportation office was keeping Ragg in touch and there was plenty of time I went back to the Hotel for dinner. Then I got a telephone call from the station, and eventually I found J. waiting for me there at about 2115 having arrived by some unknown train. Anyway we eventually got back to the Hotel and I got J. some sandwiches and drinks in our room. We had a tremendous chat and it was lovely to see her again.

Thursday, 16 December 1943 – Liverpool

I went to school at 0900 and for about 1½ hours we had preliminary discussions and preparations for the big day and night game and then we started to play it. I am in command of one of the support groups, which is about the most interesting command, and have a chief of staff to help me in the plotting. At lunch time met J. at the State Restaurant, but we had to wait such a long time for a table that I had to dash back to my battle before I’d really finished. There was a great deal of activity on the board in the p.m. Went back to the Hotel and met J. for a late tea and at 1830 the Gardners came and had drinks with us. They are a nice couple. Sat about in the lounge before going to bed. This is infinitely more pleasant to stay at than the Adelphi.

Friday, 17 December 1943 – Liverpool

J. caught the 10:00 train to London as she had promised to be home for Gillian’s breaking up play. My battle raged all day on the table and finally came to an end at about 1600. Very good value and I think I didn’t disgrace myself. I had some tea at Derby House and then rang up S.C.N.O. London from Gardner’s office and had a talk with the Signal Officer about one or two W/T points. I went back to the hotel and shifted then after almost ½ hour’s wait I caught a tram out to the other side of the town and went to dinner with Speak and his wife. He was with me in Firedrake as a Sub R.N.V.R. He is now a Lieut. His wife is American and very pleasant. They gave me a lot of whisky and got me talking much too much, with the result that I missed the last tram and it took me the best part of an hour to walk back to the Hotel.

Saturday, 18 December 1943 – Liverpool/London

Roberts took the whole of the forenoon summing up our game. He is extremely good and it was most interesting. I had an early lunch at the Derby House canteen and then went back to the hotel and tried to get a taxi. After waiting as long as I dared I finally walked with my suit case to Lime Street station and caught the 2:00 train to London. Six of us from the course had reserved a carriage. It was terribly slow and we were 2½ hours late at Euston arriving at 2045. That meant I missed the 10:45 to Havant, so I went to the Euston Hotel and rang up J. to say I couldn’t get down and then rang up Lillian to ask if she could give me a bed. Had some sandwiches at the hotel and then tubed to Earl’s Court and walked to the Robinsons’ House where I was given a camp bed in the drawing room.

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For more PAXsims coverage of WATU, see the blog posts here. The WATU pictures here are from the photo archives of the Imperial War Museum.

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Plans are underway to recreate a WATU wargame at the Western Approaches museum in Liverpool in early September. Stay tuned for for further details!

 

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