PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Category Archives: simulation and gaming news

Twenty years of civil war in Brynania

Yes, it’s that time again: at McGill University we are once again gearing up to fight—and hopefully resolve—the ongoing civil war in Brynania.

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As you might expect after so many years of fighting, Brynania is littered with mines, IEDs, and UXO.

The Brynania simulation was first launched in 1998 as a component of my POLI 450/650 course on peacebuilding. It features around one hundred participants assuming the role of governments, rebels, UN agencies, NGOs, civil society, the media, and others for up to twelve hours a day, over a full week of play. Each day of real-time represents a month in Brynania, allowing us to explore war, peace negotiations, humanitarian assistance, refugee flows—and‚ possibly‚ peacekeeping operations, transitional elections, and some post-conflict development too. Over the years, we have seen a variety of outcomes.

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Students have contributed a wealth of background material on the conflict and the region. It’s also been the subject of a couple of short documentaries/reports, and served as an experimental testbed for two PhD theses.

The workload in running the simulation is a bit overwhelming—I  end up spending around 16 hours a day on it, reading 10-15,000 emails and monitoring other electronic communications. Overwhelmingly, students are energetic, innovative, and dedicated.

This year’s simulation runs from March 27 to April 3. Needless to say, I won’t get much chance to update PAXsims until it is all over. Unfortunately it is rather hard to follow from afar, although you may catch sight of the warring parties trash-talking each other on Twitter (#Brynania)

 

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 17 March 2019

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PAXsims is pleased to offer some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) games that may be of interest to our readers. Mark Jones Jr and Gilles Roy contributed material for this latest edition.

Know of anything we might include? Pass it on!

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logo.pngThe Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists features an article by Ivanka Barzashka (King’s College London) on “Wargaming: how to turn vogue into science.” 

Wargaming to-date has been practised more as an art than a science. And professional wargamers design, conduct and analyse games in predominantly classified environments. This approach has led to the wide acceptance of wargaming as a method for training and development of operational concepts in the defense community. It has also confined the production of wargames to a small professional community of experts who have honed their skills through the wargaming master-apprentice guild system.

Analytical wargaming needs to be scientific. If wargaming tools are to underpin evidence-based analysis that informs national security and defense policy, wargames should adhere to scientific standards. Wargame producers should follow the requirements of good academic and good intelligence analysis. As former National Intelligence Council chair Tom Fingar writes, “the standard for performance [in intelligence analysis] can be no lower and arguably should be higher than those” in academic disciplines. That’s because the impacts of intelligence analysis can be “far more consequential.” The same goes for wargaming analysis.

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Are you in the London (UK) area and interested in taking part in a wargame-based research project?  King’s’ Wargaming Network is collaborating with the Project on Nuclear Gaming (comprising researchers from the University of California – Berkeley, Sandia National Labs and Lawrence Livermore National Lab) in the execution of a table-top gaming event at King’s College London.

We are seeking individuals at least 18 years old to participate in the half-day gaming event on 3 April 2019. You can sign up for the morning session (09:00 to 12:30) or the afternoon session (13:30 to 17:00).

The purpose of the study is to investigate the strategic stability of countries in the context of different capabilities.

The player slots are limited. Please sign-up by 20 March 2019 here.

Participation in this study involves:

  • Playing a game with others that will take approximately 1-2 hours.
  • Potentially being interviewed by members of the research team.
  • Answering a questionnaire.

To sign up as a player, fill out the player registration form.

For questions about the study, please contact the principal investigator, Dr. Kiran Lakkaraju at klakkar@sandia.gov.

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PS

PS: Political Science and Politics 52, 1 (January 2019) contains an article by Courtey J. Fung on “Negotiating the Nuclear and Humanitarian Crisis on the Korean Peninsula: A Simulation and Teaching Guide.”

This article describes a simulation scenario based on of-the-minute thinking about the Korean Peninsula crisis. The scenario highlights the tradeoffs and difficulties in addressing the nuclear and humanitarian crisis, tasking students to negotiate to reach consensus on track I and track II levels. Students are negotiators, gaining experience and exposure to key international relations and political science concepts through active learning. An optional media-teams and press-conference component also is discussed. The scenario, grading rubric, and supplemental materials are included to give instructors a resource that is easily modified across groups varying in size, ability, and composition.

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Amid the chaos of Brexit, The Guardian reports that the European Union “wargamed” the fall of Prime Minister Theresa May’s government.

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It doesn’t sound like an actual wargame, however—more like a scenario discussion.

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Back in January, The Guardian also reported that “a Russian toymaker has released a board game called Our Guys in Salisbury, featuring the same cities in Europe visited by the GRU agents accused of carrying out last year’s nerve agent attack.”

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It looks about as well-designed as the actual attack, which left both targets alive, one bystander dead, and resulted in the identification of the agents involved and sanctions against Moscow. There is also no word yet on whether the game allows players to uncover the identities of hundreds of GRU agents through social media, vehicle registration, and other sloppy tradecraft and OPSEC.

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PAXsims

31HETZePLAL._BO1,204,203,200_.jpgAt the Journal of Peace Education, Ludwig Gelot explores “Training for peace, conscientization through university simulation.”

Incomplete and insufficient university programmes in the field of Peace and Conflict Resolution have led to an important gap in knowledge, skills and abilities (KSA) among peacebuilders and peacekeepers. In theory, experiential learning through problem-based learning (PBL) and simulations should be able to address this gap. This article explores the opportunities and limits of this pedagogical approach to educating peace actors using the case of the Carana simulation delivered at Linné University (LNU), Sweden. Using mixed-methods, this article confirms the added- value of PBL in the development of KSAs but identifies challenges peculiar to the field of Peace and Conflict Studies that limit its effects. PBL has a clear added-value for the development of skills in learners with a consistent development of professional skills. It can be used to foster conscientization as a precursor to transforming societies towards nonviolence and justice.

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University of Edinburgh Law School postgraduate student Phoebe Warren writes about her participation in the a peace process simulation, “Building Inclusive Dialogue in Danaan.”

[Peace Settlements Research Programme] researchers Laura Wise and Kathryn Nash, along with Rebecca Smyth and Robert Macdonald, organised and facilitated the Building Inclusive Dialogue in Danaan simulation, designed by Inclusive Security, an organisation that promotes comprehensive stakeholder participation in peace processes, and particularly the participation of women. One week prior to the simulation, I received a series of general briefing materials regarding the fake country for which I would serve as the Minister of Interior and lead negotiator during peace negotiations and talks, as well as confidential information about my character’s motivations and ambitions. I particularly appreciated the details about the background, education, and family – these are considerations that most certainly colour politicians’ actions (and inactions). Having learned from my mistakes in past simulations, I spent a couple of hours on the night before the event mapping out tactics, key interests, and potential allies in order to make the best use of my time during the game. I felt relatively prepared and ready to take part in one of my favourite (and niche!) hobbies early the next morning….

You’ll find the rest of here account at the Global Justice Blog.

Phoebe also mentions her previous participation in the Brynania peacebuilding simulation during her studies at McGill University:

In my final year at McGill University, I participated in a week-long, war-to-peace simulation that changed my life. The experience was intensely stressful but immensely gratifying, as I was able to combine everything learned in four years of political science courses, and ultimately led me to undertake a degree here at the University of Edinburgh.

PAXsims

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Lessons Learned Simulation and Training recently delivered a professional development course on “Urban Refugees in the Humanitarian System” at York University in Toronto. This included a half day simulation.

You’ll find their account of how it all went at the Lessons Learned website.

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The University of Pennsylvania Law School recently partnered with the  U.S. Army War College’s Center for Strategic Leadership to conduct a two-day international strategic crisis and negotiation exercise.

Seventy-five students, organized into eight teams and each representing a different nation, will engage in a complex and broad geopolitical crisis centered around the South China Sea. The teams will negotiate with their counterparts at a simulated United Nations-mandated peace conference, where they will be tasked to resolve a challenging international dispute with diplomatic, informational, military, legal, and economic factors at play.

You’ll find additional details here.

PAXsims

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The Australian Army’s professional development website The Cove has posted another quick decision exercise: UAV Incident.

You are the Section Commander of a security team currently supporting a Construction Engineer element finishing off repairs to a local school. You are purely providing local security at the job site and security on the move when transiting from your combat team (CT) forward operating base (FOB) and the school.

Given that it is now the final plumbing and electrical tasks for the job, you only have 4 engineer personnel (2 x Plumbers and 2 x Electricians) with you, as well as an interpreter to speak with the school officials and 6 locally employed labourers when required. In order to move this group and your section, you have 2 x PMV, which are currently parked astride the school compound.

Currently you have a have a fire team securing the actual job site within the school. You have a piquet in each of the vehicles covering East and West respectively down the main route which are the most likely approach routes for insurgents or anti-Government elements.

The rest of your Platoon is on CT quick reaction force (QRF) duties at the FOB which is 12km to the North of your current location. You are set to return to the FOB at 1730h.

As you are preparing your confirmatory orders to return back to the FOB in about 30 minutes, you first hear and then see an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) whine overhead from southeast to northwest at a very low height. As it passes overhead you hear the whine cut out and it dives towards the ground. Although you hear no impact due to traffic noise, you are confident that it has just crashed about 500 – 600 metres to the North West of your location. You take a quick bearing towards where you think it would have landed given its glide path.

You immediately contact the CT HQ and inform them of your observation.They immediately confirm to you  that the only battlegroup UAV operating today is still airborne, but will checkwith other Coalition force elements.

Minutes later they contact you and indicate that another force’s UAV has been lost in your area. They have given a projected impact zone of the UAV which conforms to your observations and have requested your team’s assistance in recovering it.

PAXsims

RAND_RR2850RAND recently published a Conceptual Design for a Multiplayer Security Force Assistance Strategy Game, developed by Elizabeth M. Bartels, Christopher S. Chivvis, Adam R. Grissom, and Stacie L. Pettyjohn.

The authors explain the conceptual underpinnings and basic rules for a RAND-designed security force assistance strategy game. The game is a tool to explore the potential benefits and risks of different security force assistance strategies under different conditions. The game engine draws on empirical evidence and best practices and, thus, can be applied in many contexts.

Key Findings

  • The Security Force Assistance Game is a portfolio game in which players decide how to invest in the capabilities of different partner forces in order to achieve objectives.
  • Twelve principles of security force assistance were identified from empirical literature and used to build an adjudication tool to project plausible operational outcomes from player investments. Changes in the strategic relationship between actors caused by operational shifts in relative capability were adjudicated based on expert judgement.
  • This game allows structured comparison of different SFA strategies, enabling players and sponsors to consider the potential benefits and risks of different courses of action.

Recommendations

  • The Security Force Assistance Game can be adapted to look at SFA in other countries or to create a strategy for SFA investments across multiple nations.
  • Future games can benefit from using “live” teams of experts to represent recipient nation decisionmaking; exploring SFA in a competitive marketplace with multiple possible investors; subdividing the U.S team to better reflect competing objects and constraints; playing further into the future by including more turns; and requiring materiel investments to be sustained.

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The Deep Mind blog discusses the development of Artificial Intelligence systems able to beat human players in real-time strategy games.

Games have been used for decades as an important way to test and evaluate the performance of artificial intelligence systems. As capabilities have increased, the research community has sought games with increasing complexity that capture different elements of intelligence required to solve scientific and real-world problems. In recent years, StarCraft, considered to be one of the most challenging Real-Time Strategy (RTS) games and one of the longest-played esports of all time, has emerged by consensus as a “grand challenge” for AI research.

h/t Mark Jones Jr.

PAXsims

If you took part in the recent CONNECTIONS NORTH wargaming conference and/or APOCALYPSE NORTH megagame at McGill university, there are now additional pictures of both events available courtesy of Gilles Roy. A sample of these is presented below, but there are many more at the link.

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Strategic wargaming week at King’s

April 2-5 is “strategic wargaming week” at King’s College London, with a series of events planned.

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For notice of this and other events, follow the King’s Wargaming Network on Twitter.

A week of wargaming in Norfolk (VA)

53313375_10103972961974287_1294889127430324224_n.jpegMaj Tom Mouat (Defence Academy of the UK) and I just finished up teaching a week-long wargaming  course for NATO Allied Command Transformation in Norfolk, VA.

The topics covered in the course included:

The slides (pdf) from my lectures can be found at the links above, while Tom has collected all his together here.

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The original plan. We ended up moving a few of the sessions around.

We also played a number of games, intended to demonstrate various approaches:

Several additional games were played as optional activities in the evening: Urban Kriegspiel, AFTERSHOCK, Black Orchestra, and We Are Coming, Nineveh.

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Platoon Attack.

 

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Planning an airstrike in Strike Package.

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Urban Kriegsspiel.

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Briefing the Gulf Crisis seminar game.

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The Gulf Crisis seminar game underway.

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Section Commander 2018.

 

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Black Orchestra.

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Hitler is dead! (Black Orchestra)

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We Are Coming, Nineveh.

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Daesh (ISIS) makes its last stand in the ruins of the Grand Mosque of al-Nuri in We Are Coming, Nineveh.

On the last day, we challenged the participants to develop their own wargames on the topic of the Syrian civil war. (This topic, it should be noted, was put forwards by us as an interesting one for game design purposes and not suggested in any way by NATO ACT). The group then formed into four teams, each of which produced very interesting and very different designs.

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Gaming the Syrian civil war.

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Gaming the Syrian civil war.

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Gaming the Syrian civil war.

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Gaming the Syrian civil war.

  • A seminar/negotiations game, primarily intended to teach junior foreign service officers about negotiations.
  • An educational boardgame on Syrian, Iranian, and Russian efforts to safeguard the Asad regime.
  • One mixed methods project that involved an initial alternatives futures exercise, which was then followed by games exploring critical junctures.
  • A matrix game exploring regional and international geopolitics in Syria.

On the last day we even played a few turns of the latter of these. This was followed by a general discussion and feedback.

if we do the course again, we will need to think about the balance between lectures and demonstrations. Participants really enjoyed the opportunity to game, and asked for more integration of insights, teachable moments, and explanation into the gaming sessions. On the other hand, the lectures provide a vehicle for packing in a lot of information. Overall, however, feedback seem to be very positive. We certainly enjoyed ourselves!

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Simulation & Gaming (February 2019)

Brazilian National Meeting of Wargames – ItaipaWars – 2019

The following report has been provided for PAXsims by Professor Heraldo Makrakis of the Técnico e Superior Instituto Federal de Educação, Ciência e Tecnologia do Rio Grande do Sul (Campus Canoas).


 

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On February 01, 02 and 03rd, 2019 the 3rd annual National Meeting of Wargames – ItaipaWars took place at the Convention Center General Ayrosa of the Brazilian Army,  located in the pleasant mountainous region of Rio de Janeiro in Itaipava.

Brazil2The objective of this Education and Public Outreach of the Federal Institute of Education, Science and Technology of Rio Grande do Sul – Campus Canoas (IFRS Campus Canoas) was the diffusion of science and technology through the practice of wargames in the general public interested in matters related to international strategic studies, defense studies and military science, integrating diverse publics: military institutions, militaria and academic and polytechnic institutions.

Participating in the organization of the event were retired Brazilian Army Colonel (military systems engineer) and current Professor at IFRS- Campus Canoas,  Heraldo Makrakis and Colonel (retired in service) Gerson Vallle Monteiro Júnior.

The event was co-hosted by the Strategic Studies Workshop of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (OEE UFRGS) ,the Center for Strategic Studies of the Southern Military Command (NEE CMS), and the Somniun Militaria Club.

Among the 15 participants should be highlighted the international participation of the young political scientist and wargames analyst, Maciej Sarnacki from Poland.

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The reception.

The schedule was developed through workshops lasting four hours exploring various themes and gameplay mechanisms such as: hex and counter, card drive games, COIN, euro-boardgames, etc.

Among the available wargames available for review by participants was the project Geopolitics. Also relevant is the play of War in the Pampas of Somniun Clube and the playtest of the scenario Battle of Tuyuti 1866 (Battle Cry) used in the Workshops of Strategic Studies of UFRGS—all Brazilian designs.

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At the closing session a workshop was held with a lecture on “Research Projects and Education and Public Outreach in Inferential Simulation Games” and a debate on the proposal for the realization of a Connections South conference for 2020 in Brazil.

The wargames played at the conference were:

A happy AFTERSHOCK(s) ending

I’m happy to report that the Great AFTERSHOCK Kerfuffle has now been suitably resolved.

Stephen Buonocore of Stronghold Games and I have spoken and discussed the issue. He has offered a name change/modification, which will settle the issue and make both of us happy. Neither of us want to see any harm done to the other, and we are pleased that the situation has now been resolved.

Also, many thanks to the various folks here at the blog, Facebook, Twitter, BoardGameGeek, and Reddit for various thoughtful comments and suggestions on the issue.

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AFTERSHOCK(s)

This issue has now been resolved! For game historians amongst you, the now-ancient history is below


Recently Stronghold Games launched a new game project on Kickstarter, Aftershock.

In Aftershock, players will spend money to acquire planning cards, which are used to increase population, build bridges, and determine where aftershocks occur. Spend money wisely to acquire aftershocks that will allow you to move people into and out of the demolished areas. Planning and careful negotiation are essential in order to maintain your population and score your best-planned cities and bridges.

Since PAXsims published a game called AFTERSHOCK in 2015, this caused some considerable confusion. We received multiple queries—via the blog, Twitter, email, discussion forums, and even in person—asking if the new game was somehow a newer or updated version of our original game. It’s not.

The new Aftershock (by Bobby West and veteran game designer Alan R. Moon) is an earthquake-themed Eurogame. You actually cause earthquakes in this game.

The original AFTERSHOCK is a serious (but enjoyable!) game designed to teach about humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. It has been used for training humanitarian aid workers, medical students, UN peacekeepers, and military personnel. We have run games for the US State Department, USAID, the Department of National Defence, the UK Ministry of Defence, and others, and it was a featured game at the Military Operations Research Society’s wargaming conference and the recent Serious Games Forum in Paris. The original AFTERSHOCK is also a non-profit fundraiser for frontline UN humanitarian agencies who respond to actual earthquakes and other humanitarian emergencies.

When we became aware of the name duplication, we reached out to the publishers. They  sent us a two sentence reply noting that “unfortunately, sometimes names overlap slightly in board games.” This is true, of course. There is another Aftershock out there as well, but that’s a terrain-building tavern game that no one would ever confuse with a game about earthquake response. In the case of the new Aftershock, however, the box font and theme are sufficiently close that there is already confusion.

We wrote back, suggesting that if it was too late to change their title, perhaps we could find a win-win solution—they might mention the existence of our game (to avoid confusion), and we would be happy to do the same. Perhaps they could even help publicize material on actual disaster relief operations. After all, our sales (in the hundreds, for a serious game with a particular niche) are hardly a threat to Stronghold Games (who will be hoping for sales in the tens of thousands). When they tweeted about their launch on Twitter, we issued a polite clarification.

 

Then it got weird. They blocked us on Twitter, and they blocked most everyone else who pointed out that these were different games.

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Let’s be clear here, we’re not accusing them of nefarious motives. We absolutely accept that they failed to check and accidentally launched a game with a similar title. We recognize that they have a legal right to do this. We’re not demanding anything of them. However, an issue that could have been resolved in a few minutes has been blown up to the point that others are now discussing it on their blogs or posting about it in discussion forums. Given that our little non-threatening, non-profit project is designed to train people who actually save lives in humanitarian disasters, and raises money for disaster-affected populations in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, we would be sad if some cooperative, mutually-beneficial solution couldn’t be found. We’re also worried that actual humanitarian providers will find the wrong game when they search, and miss an opportunity to enhance their professional training.

However, we are also (as Brant Guillory recently pointed out on Twitter) Canadians, and hence are required by federal law to be stereotypically polite. On that note, rather than inject rancour into this unfortunate affair, we have decided to produce a special commemorative (original) AFTERSHOCK event card to mark the launch of the (new, not ours) Aftershock. You can download the pdf , and print this at home, either assembling it as shown below or simply pasting the text section onto one of the blank cards included in (original) AFTERSHOCK.

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Long may your simulated humanitarian responses be coordinated and effective!


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Stronghold games has now cancelled the Kickstarter. The following email was apparently sent out to backers:

As you may have been notified, we’ve decided to cancel the Aftershock Kickstarter campaign…for now.

So what next?

While the campaign funded, the Deluxe Edition upgrades (and their associated costs) weren’t resonating with as many people as we had hoped. We are going back to the drawing board – rethinking how to give Aftershock its best shot at doing well. Our next step could be a revised Kickstarter with different reward levels and perks for backers, or perhaps we just go straight to retail.

In either case, we’re still very excited about this game, and we’re 100% committed to bringing it to you. Thank you to every one of our amazing backers. We really appreciate you coming out and showing your support.

We’ll be sure to update everyone with our new plans once they’ve been finalized.

Thank you so much for your support,

Stephen Buonocore, President – Stronghold Games

There’s no mention of the naming issue in there. We certainly didn’t want to see a gaming project derailed—-the more games out on the market, the better! As we noted above, we think there are easy, cooperative, win-win solutions. Consequently, we will be reaching out to them (again) in the coming weeks in the hopes that we can become enthusiastic supporters of their future project relaunch.


One final comment, prompted by some of the increasingly heated language about this whole issue online. We’re not angry, just hoping for a cooperative solution—after all, some of us do peacebuilding for a living. You shouldn’t be angry either. Keep any discussion positive, respectful, and constructive!

Indeed, rather than see this descend into a personal debate, might we suggest that we all donate a little something to the World Fund Programme (the primary beneficiary of funds raised by AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game). WFP is the UN agency which provides emergency food supplies to millions of people around the world affected by natural disaster, war, and famine. We’ve just donated $100 (PayPal transaction ID 5YF57680T3388715F) in the hopes that all the energy spent on angry words can be diverted to better things. Anyone else? Every little bit counts!

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McGill gaming (Winter 2019 edition)

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The view from outside the Education Building today, where POLI 450 meets.

This time of the year is always a busy one for gaming activities at McGill University—so busy, in fact, that I’ve been a little remiss in updating PAXsims with all of our goings-on.

I teach two courses with a significant gaming components during the Winter term. POLI 450 is a course on peacebuilding, exploring topics ranging from forced displacement and humanitarian assistance through to negotiation, peacekeeping and stabilization operations, DDR (demobilization/disarmament/reintegration of ex-combatants), reconstruction, coordination, transitional justice, and a host of other issues. There are 87 students in the class, plus another six in the POLI 650 graduate seminar. Over the term they will experience a few short, in-class simulations, an optional tournament of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game, and the massive, week-long “Brynania” peace operations simulation in late March/early April.

POLI 422 is a “selected topics” course on conflict simulation design with 31 students. This is the first time I’ve taught a full lecture course on the topic, although last year I did teach a very successful seminar on conflict simulation and a shorter professional course on serious games (at Carleton University), and a few students have previously undertaken independent studies courses with me that involved game designs on topics such as the Arab Spring and Syrian civil war. Moving forward this will be a regular course, taught annually at McGill from now as POLI 452.

Lectures so far have focused on the history of wargaming, the principles of serious game design, and modelling conflict through game systems. The course text is Phil Sabin’s book Simulating War, developed from his experience teaching a graduate wargaming course at King’s College London.

Students were also asked to come up with game proposals. Ten students chose to make a pitch, on topics ranging from Chinese-Vietnamese naval conflict to counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. Dr. Ben Taylor from Defence Research and Development Canada joined the class on presentation day to help assess them all, and in the end six were chosen as our projects for the year:

  • Fallen Republic (stabilization operations in a future collapsed North Korea)
  • Cartel (Mexican drug cartels)
  • Conquering the North Pole (Arctic cooperation and conflict)
  • Little Green Men (Russian interference in Ukraine)
  • Operation Breakpoint (impact of new and emerging technologies on asymmetric warfare)
  • Collateral (intelligence collection and high value targeting)

The various team leaders then formed groups of five students to work on each project. I’m quite pleased with the way we did this. First, students were each asked to fill out a “game design CV” detailing their areas of expertise and interest (gaming experience, graphic arts skills, research and documentation, rules-editing). Team leaders were then given a copy of these CVs, plus $1 million in fictional “game designer dollars.” Each team leader made secret bids for those they wished to recruit to her or his team. Unclaimed students were assigned by me based on skills and interests. No one was informed how much they had attracted in bids, of course—I didn’t want anyone to feel bad if they hadn’t been bid on. The result is that the teams each seem to include an appropriate mix of skills, and most people ended up in a project they wanted to work on.

Ben will be coming back to the class on February, to offer advice on game design, and then will help pick the winner of an informal DRDC design award for the best design at the end of the term.

In addition to class lectures, POLI 422 also features a series of optional games and other course activities through the term that contribute to course participation grades.

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1812: Invasion of Canada is a very good introduction to wargaming for neophytes: it is easy to play, does a nice job of illustrating the general contours of the conflict, and is an effective introduction to both area movement and card-driven mechanics. We Are Coming, Nineveh is a block game first developed by my students last year, examining the 2017 liberation of West Mosul by Iraqi security forces. Not only is it a terrific game (and one that will be commercially published), but because it was a student design it is a real inspiration to other students. The STRIKE! Battlegroup Tactical Wargame is in the mix because it is both a very straightforward hex-and-chit tactical game, and also because it was developed by serious folks at Dstl for serious training applications in the British Army. Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001-? is used to demonstrate card-driven political-military games, and Urban Operations is another tactical game that features mixed hex/area movement as well as some modelling of 3 dimensional urban terrain. Black Orchestraa is included because I think it is a really beautifully-designed cooperative design, while ISIS Crisis and A Reckoning of Vultures help to demonstrate matrix games. Students can also gain activity credits for playing certain digital games, attending certain events, or organizing their own gaming sessions.

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1812: Invasion of Canada

Speaking of We Are Coming, Nineveh, it is 99% done, including the solitaire system. The latter allows a single player to play against Daesh, with the actions of the latter determined by a card draw. We continue to do more playtesting, but this really only results in slight tweaks of cards and rules for clarity. We were especially pleased to learn last month that, along with a number of previously published commercial games, Nineveh will be examined as part of a Dstl-supported project on modelling urban warfare.

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We Are Coming, Nineveh!

Part of the reason things are so busy at the moment is because we have the Connections North (serious) wargaming conference coming up on Saturday, February 16. It looks like we’ll have about sixty people attending Connections North, about one-third professionals and two-thirds university students (including a group coming up to Montreal from Tufts University).

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The following day, on February 17, about a hundred of us will be engaged in some rather less serious wargaming: the APOCALYPSE NORTH megagame. While the zombie Armageddon isn’t a terribly plausible national security threat, the actual game is a pretty solid emergency management simulation, which models pretty much every Canadian Forces regular and reserve component in southern Ontario and Quebec, as well as emergency services and other relevant assets. The federal-provincial politics of it all should also be fun, and rather distinctly Canadian. If all goes according to plan—and it might not, since it depends on IT and AV things working as they should on the day—we should even have a (simulated) CBC television studio live-streaming reports to the players and beyond.

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In early March, I’ll be joining fellow PAXsims editor Major Tom Mouat (Defence Academy of the UK) in Norfolk, Virginia for a week, as we will co-teach a wargaming course at NATO Allied Command Transformation. You will get a PAXsims report on that after the week is done, of course.

Late March will see me tied up in the recurrent civil war in Brynania, reading 10,000+ emails, and monitoring dozens of simultaneous chatrooms and Twitter. After that comes the end of term in mid-April, along with final exams—and game projects—to grade.

 

 

CNA Talks: How to make a wargame

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The latest edition of CNA’s podcast series features Jeremy Sepinsky discussing “how to make a wargame.”

In part one of our occasional series on wargaming, Don Boroughs sits down with CNA’s lead wargame designer Jeremy Sepinsky to discuss what it takes to create a CNA wargame. Jeremy describes CNA’s games as bespoke, informed, immersive and diverse, designed to solve very specific analytical problems. To illustrate this, Jeremy talks Don though a hypothetical wargame designed to determine whether the military should invest in an airborne laser. If you enjoy this episode, keep an eye out for part two of our series, in which Don and Jeremy will discuss what it’s like to play in a CNA wargame.

If you are interested in learning more about CNA wargaming program, please contact Jeremy Sepinsky at sepinskyj@cna.org. Go to www.cna.org/CNAtalks to learn more about the participants and listen to more CNA Talks episodes.

AFTERSHOCK “Deal of the Day” at The Game Crafter

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AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game is currently the “Deal of the Day” at The Game Crafter. You have only a few more hours to get it at 12% off the regular price!

KWN: Yuna Wong livestream today

The King’s Wargaming Network reminds us that Yuna Wong’s lecture on “Developing an Academic Discipline of Wargaming: Pathways, Possibilities and Pitfalls” will be live streamed today (16 January 2019) via YouTube.
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Rubel: Gaming the interface between strategy and operations

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At the Center for International Maritime Security website, Robert “Barney” Rubel is offering his thoughts on gaming the interface between strategy and operations:

Wargaming is ubiquitous throughout the U.S. Armed Forces as a tool for research, education, training, and influence. It is a flexible tool, adaptable to different scenarios, purposes, and levels of war. It is in this last arena, levels of war, that gaming organizations and their sponsors can bump up against the limits of wargaming.

The inherent nature of wargaming requires delineation and focus in game objectives and design. A game to address all three levels of war, strategic, operational, and tactical, is simply not feasible, requiring too many players, too much money, and too much time. The normal approach is to pick a level of war to play, with the other levels being either scripted, managed by the control cell, or ignored altogether. Even when a game is designed to incorporate free play at two levels, some kind of pruning of factors – frequently time – must occur to make the game feasible within budget and schedule constraints. The net result is that a robust exploration of the relationships among the levels of war becomes a casualty, missing in action.

Among the consequences of this gap in gaming could be a failure of communication and coordination among policy, strategy, and operational decision-makers, such as occurred in Vietnam and Iraq. This series will discuss the nature of this gaming gap and will offer some suggestions for closing it.

In Part 1 he discusses the problematic nature of the gap in policy-making and military operations. In Part 2, he focuses on combining strategy and operations in wargames:

It is often the case that scenarios for operational-level wargames include a “road-to-war” section that offers a plausible narrative of how the crisis or an attack that starts the game came about. As routinely as such narratives are produced, their influence on the game tends to wane as the game proceeds. Players and umpires become immersed in operational moves and counter-moves. Moreover, the road-to-war narrative may lack sufficient discussion of factors that would be needed to power analyses or move assessments farther downstream in the game. The bottom line is that unless a game is designed such that it includes specific measures to examine the matter, the strategy/operations interface gets short shrift in current gaming practice.

Of course, no plan survives contact with the enemy, so inevitably, once a war starts, a strategy/operations feedback loop of some sort must be established. Such loops automatically raise the issue of the degree to which operations are subject to detailed management from Washington. In some cases, such as Vietnam, operations such as air strikes into North Vietnam were micromanaged from the White House. In others, such as Desert Storm, General Schwarzkopf went into cease fire negotiations with little in the way of guidance from the president. In between those extremes are any number of cases, such as Lincoln and Grant, in which we find a good balance of delegation and oversight.

At this point it should be mentioned that each level of war contains its own logic and its own set of imperatives. The fundamental purpose of each higher command echelon is to coordinate and support the staffs and units that report to it. However, there is also the inherent requirement for higher echelons to override or sub-optimize the logic of lower echelon operations. If tactical victory was all that mattered, operational-level staffs would not have to worry about harmonizing strategy and tactics and could only focus on coordinating the tactical units below them. Similarly, if operational logic governed things once war broke out – a view that was widely held in earlier times – then political oversight would be unnecessary and likely counter-productive. The point is that there frequently arises occasions in which higher commands must impose guidance on lower level forces that exposes them to higher risk or reins them in somehow in order to protect or achieve higher level objectives.

 

Serious Games Forum 2018 conference report

This report is written by PAXsims research associate Juliette Le Ménahèze. All pictures are courtesy of the Serious Games Network.


 

image.pngThe first edition of the Serious Games Forum was held on 3 December 2018 in Paris. The event was hosted at the War College (École Militaire) by the Serious Games Network (SGN) – France, and supported by a number of associations. The event was attended by 200 people, and counted no less than 30 speakers and workshop facilitators.

The morning was dedicated to conference panels, organized around two themes: a first general panel on wargaming, and a second focusing on the benefits of wargaming for business.

First, Patrick Ruetschmann (SGN President and the Forum’s main organizer) welcomed everyone and explained how the day was to unfold.

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General reflections on wargaming

Historian and wargame designer Pierre Razoux spoke on the use of wargaming at the War College strategic research institute (Institut de Recherche Stratégique de l’Ecole Militaire – IRSEM), where he leads the “regional questions – North” research cluster. IRSEM distinguishes itself from other French think-tanks by resorting extensively to wargaming, which still lacks recognition and is seldom used in France.

Professor Philip Sabin then explained the reasons why King’s College London, where he teaches wargaming, is establishing a Wargaming Network (WN). The aim of the WN, which he co-directs with Ms Ivanka Barzashka and for which the inaugural lecture was held the day following the conference, endeavours to advance wargaming as a tool for innovation and education to address current security challenges. King’s has a rich history of wargaming, and through the WN they seek to further still their position as a hub for the growing community of students and staff studying and applying wargames. He discussed the importance of wargaming as an active learning tool for King’s students, who through playing and designing wargames further their understanding of conflict dynamics. Moreover, there is a growing understanding in the defence community that wargaming is a powerful tool, by providing a ‘safe fail’ environment.

Colonel Christophe de Lajudie offered his perspective on whether or not we should refuse digital wargaming. Unfortunately I was not able to attend this talk.

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Wargaming for business

Dr Sara Ulrich spoke of business wargaming, especially in the context of Deloitte crisis management. She is a Director of Deloitte’s UK Crisis Management & Resilience practice leading Contingency Planning for Strategic Risks (Brexit currently) and also Scenario Planning, Simulations and Wargaming.

According to her, business wargaming has capability in four areas:

  • Future preparedness wargames: they allow the company to explore its potential future and get a better understanding of the unknown
  • Issues & crisis preparedness simulations and wargames: they are designed to support a company’s high impact events, issues or crisis plans preparedness.
  • Learning & training wargames: they are designed to help practice and rehearse skills and understand others’ (clients, competitors, regulators, etc.) perspectives
  • Key decisions business wargames: they are designed to support a company’s planning, testing or stress testing of key decisions or important challenges.

Then she explained that Deloitte organizes its wargames in the following way: the client team is faced with the red teams, comprising competitors, as well as the market and regulators, and the control team.

She offered a few examples of wargames organized at Deloitte: three for clients, and an internal wargame for Deloitte’s senior managers.

  • “Global pharma companies wargame workshop” organized for a drug launch
    • Two global pharma companies formed a partnership to co-launch a new drug in two regions. The drug was undergoing phase 3 clinical trials with the results expected to be published soon. The drug was set to launch in two regions. The biggest concern was that the outcome of the clinical trial could demonstrate that the new treatment is no better than current drugs already on the market. The client engaged Deloitte to help assess the potential impacts of various trial results (phase 1, the wargame itself), and to develop a detailed mitigation plan (phase 2). The two “maximum change” scenarios were explored.
  • “Broadband company full market business wargame” to predict competitors’ moves
    • This client was facing an increasingly competitive environment as the ecosystem, regulatory and market landscape continues to evolve. They thus engaged Deloitte to run a 2-day wargame to bring to life the competitive market.
    • Day 1 focused on 2017-2018: Increased fixed line competition and threats of substitution to 4G wireless products and Wi-Fi offerings. During the debriefing session they identified the possibility of a market shock: two competitors may merge due to pressure on growth.
    • Day 2 focused on the future period 2019-2023. It started in the following way: Increased demand for higher broadband speeds due to advancements in technology and looming 5G release poses a substitution threat. Relying on the precedent day’s debriefing findings, they also introduced a market shock, with a new player entry. The debriefing session identified the key threats for this client, what the response strategies should be, relying on the consultant’s’ expertise and on participant reflections. Finally, they were able to detail an action plan.
  • “Negotiation skills business wargame for Deloitte University”
    • The 1-day game was organized for Deloitte Senior Manager level participants with aim to enhance their negotiations skills. The war game used a negotiation model which is based on the Harvard model of negotiation, and involved role-played negotiation meetings. War game materials were pushed to participant teams through an online platform, which drove the wargame and replicated real life decision making. Teams were scored on tasks through the platform, and on face-to-face meetings. These scores were aligned to the negotiation framework for in-day feedback.
  • “Major oil company business wargame” for a future joint venture
    • A major oil company engaged Deloitte to develop a Joint-Venture wargame event in order to bring typical JV risks and challenges to life. The event was themed around “Back to the Future”, taking participants from 2030 to 2016, with a focus on a different JV challenge at each move. Dynamic injects such as newspaper articles, voiceovers and holograms were delivered over the course of the day using Greenhouse technology.
    • The six client participants were divided in two: three focused on the downstream and the three others focused on the upstream. They had to prepare strategic JV responses to scenarios sent by the control team, who would constantly introduce updates and material. Additionally, a team of experts was present to input advice when requested, and role play different stakeholders. They were instrumental in providing key insights during the debriefing session.

I tremendously enjoyed this talk, because it was very practical and detail-oriented. It provided a fresh and dynamic outlook on wargaming and I believe it provided participants with a clear idea of how they could use wargames for their own business needs.

Major Tom Mouat then spoke of what business can learn from wargaming. He started with a reminder for all the participants of what wargaming is about. First wargaming is a great training, and training is about making us better at what we already know, but also about understanding ourselves and making ourselves better. Moreover wargaming is about shared understanding and imagination, competition and adversarial thinking, and understanding victory and learning from defeat. He particularly emphasized that last point.

Tom Mouat then quoted Thomas C Shelling: “The one thing you cannot do… is to make a list of things you never thought of”. That is counterable through wargames. He also reminded us that after the treaty of Versailles was signed, the German army was deprived of a proper army and their actual military exercises were limited. They thus resorted to wargames for training, with a terrible efficacy.

A major danger in the military and the business world alike, is the phenomena of groupthink, in part induced by a rigid hierarchy that makes it hard for lower level officials/ employees to questions their superior’s decisions. It leads to imitation based on previous decisions and limits the possibilities for innovation, reinterpretation, and so on.

To groupthink he opposed the wisdom of crowds. Groups can be better at estimation than individuals. Groups indeed bring a diversity of opinion, decentralized expertise and independence of thought. This advantage is nullified if formal hierarchy is maintained among group members. Another point to consider is that best predictions come from conflict or contest.

He also discussed the usefulness of roleplay in predicting outcomes: one study found that rolepays had a 62% chance of accurately predicting outcomes, far better than a single expert (31% correct) or a game theory (32% correct).

Moving on to business, he identified business benefits from wargaming: analysis of competitor, customer and supplier behavior; new product introductions, market entry scenarios, or development of new businesses; impact of changes in market environment; and simulation of negotiations.

Finally, Tom Mouat reminded us that wargaming isn’t about the “game” (which business people who are not familiar with the practice fail to understand)” Wargaming is about practice, an attitude of mind, getting input from everyone, in an organisation that values innovation, with the goal of exploring ways to make the “other guy” fail, and above all gaining a clear understanding of “what do we want to achieve?”.

Walter Vejdovsky, head of group M&As at Capgemini, discussed the benefits of wargaming for one’s organization. He opened his talk with a quote illustrating the benefits of wargaming: “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand” (Confucius).

He identified the major common traits of the military and business:

  • a pyramidal command structure (whether explicit or implicit in the case of businesses)
  • Limited intelligence on the enemy or the competitors, and internal intelligence/ reporting bias
  • Friction and uncertainty
  • Competition
  • The human factor: the morale is key, and stress, emotions and commitment of any decisions (although businesses face lesser risks)
  • Multidimensional goals: in the military, victory is determined with a mix of losses, geographical control and political factors; in business, the “value” of a corporation involves numerous factors.

Lunch followed, and the major part of the afternoon was dedicated to the game fair, divided in 6 workshops: (1) contemporary games (2) conceive games (3) cybersecurity (4) humanitarian and civil security (5) use for formation (6) history of wargaming.

Each workshop was run twice in the afternoon and comprised of one or two introductory talks, followed by a couple simultaneous games. Running Rex Brynen’s AFTERSHOCK humanitarian crisis game, I unfortunately did not get the occasion to explore the other workshops and games.

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image.pngIn the humanitarian and civil security workshop, Russell King spoke (in French!) of his experience in emergency planning at the British National Health Service (NHS), its crucial importance, and how simulations can lead to positive planning improvements.

Dr Sophie Cros (Panthéon-Sorbonne) then spoke of an experiment she ran with policemen and firemen after three days of formation to crisis management. She ran one realistic and one unrealistic crisis simulation. She noted that the unrealistic simulation had generated a lot of stress among participants, whereas the other did not. When put under stress, individuals showed that they did not completely assimilate what they had learned during the 3-day workshop. The unrealistic, stress-inducing simulation was thus best fitted to spot potential shortcomings of individuals’ trainings.

After the talks the games could take place. I was supposed to run two sessions of AFTERSHOCK but could only run the first one for I was short on participants during the second session. Participants seemed to enjoy the first session, and during the second session I instead explained the game and its uses to a few people who approached me and seemed very interested, be they students, humanitarian personnel, or military personnel. They expressed the wish to see a French version of the game published. (A French translation of the rules and player aids is, however, available on BoardGameGeek.) 

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The last part of the afternoon was dedicated to the results of a hackathon ran jointly by Sciences Po and the French Red Cross. Three teams of Sciences Po students thus presented the game they had designed in just a few weeks for the Red Cross, on the theme of International Humanitarian Law.

The first team had designed an app-supported cyber security wargame, loosely modelled on battleship. The red team tries to find the position of the blue team’s security system and attack it. Both players have to answer cyber security-related questions on the app in order to advance or block the adversary.

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The second team had designed an app-supported game as well, which was semi-collaborative as each player had its own agenda while working towards a common goal for the Red Cross, and one player could even be a secret enemy. The scenarios, agendas of the protagonists, but also the number of turns were randomly generated by the app, making it highly replayable.

The third team had designed a boardgame modeling an emergency issue in a fictive city plagued by civil war between two groups. The game thus comprised three players, The Red Cross and the two fighting groups. Each fighting group had the objective of taking control of the city (seizing the city hall being the main objective), while the Red Cross’ objective was essentially to save as much of the city’s population as possible.

All these games seemed very well designed and enjoyable, and I was truly impressed with what they had managed to achieve in just a few weeks.

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Following that, Tom Mouat, Pierre Razoux, Patrick Ruestchmann, Eric Jacopin and a Red Cross representative took questions from the audience. Finally, it fell to General Carmona, vice-director of the Institute for Higher National Defence Studies (Institut des Hautes Etudes de Défense Nationale, IHEDN), to make a few concluding comments on the conference.

Overall, it was a very productive and stimulating day. As a French national, I must say I was particularly happy to witness the first French edition of a Connections-like conference, and proud of what had been achieved. I want to salute Patrick Ruetschmann’s hard work in putting together such an event practically on his own. The participants too were very dynamic and passionate about their subject.

Moreover, I was impressed and extremely satisfied with the greater gender-parity and proportion of young people compared with other wargaming events I had had the chance to attend in the past. The collaboration between Sciences Po and the Red Cross, and the partnership with a master’s program partly taught at the War College itself were decisive in increasing the number of young participants. I particularly appreciated that Sciences Po students were able to present their games. It sent a strong signal that the young were able to produce smart, fun and instructive wargames.

I hope to see more of this in the 2019 edition, that promises to be more ambitious with at least two days of conference.

Juliette Le Ménahèze 

2018 in review

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Happy 2019, everyone! With a new year upon us, it is a good time to review the past year at PAXsims.

First off, we are happy to report that we had our most successful year yet, with some 60,127 visitors and 119,628 page views. That brings us up to a total of 702,535 views since the project was launched ten years ago in January 2009.

The largest share of our views continue to come from the United States (46%), UK (12%), and Canada (9%). However, viewers from China now comprise a larger and larger share, now representing the fifth largest group of visitors. All told we had visitors from 179 different countries and territories, including East Timor and Chad.

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We had 119 posts on the website in 2018. The post popular posts from the past year were our recent review of the iOS game Rebel Inc, MAJ Cole Peterson’s account of the Sea Dragon wargaming competition at Marine Corps University, our report on the WATU wargame, an overview of Dstl’s STRIKE! battlegroup tactical wargame, and the PAXsims report on the Connections UK 2018 professional wargaming conference. Our all-time most popular piece is on the wargaming Wrens of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit, as well as our resource pages on AFTERSHOCK and the Matrix Game Construction Kit.

Brian Train remains our most prolific commenter on posts, and hence is once again recipient of the annual Golden PAXsim award.

 

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