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Category Archives: simulation and gaming publications

Review: World Politics Simulations in a Global Information Age

Hemda Ben-Yehuda, Luba Levin-Banchik, Channan Naveh, World Politics Simulations in a Global Information Age (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2015). 181pp + index. USD$45.95.

9780472052769.jpgThis book discusses the value of simulations in the teaching of international relations, and then offers guidance on how to run them. In Part 1, the focus is on pedagogical value of simulation, the various types of simulations available, and the factors to be considered in designing or selecting one. Part 2 focuses on running a simulation: how to prepare students, preparation of briefing materials, and processes and procedures that might be used. Part 3 looks at student feedback and instructor debriefing, as well as course assessment. In Part 4 the book turns its attention to “the future of world politics simulation.”

The book is very much built around the authors’ preferred type of simulation, a hybrid approach combining both face-to-face and digital interaction, the latter conducted via Facebook, email, or similar means. This is indeed a powerful approach, and one that I’ve been using for two decades in the annual Brynania peacebuilding simulation at McGill University, as well as in some serious policy simulations. It has much to recommend it.

Since the focus of World Politics Simulations in a Global Information Age is on negotiation simulations and international conflict, it invites comparisons with Natasha Gill’s Inside the Box: Using Integrative Simulations to Teach Conflict, Negotiation and Mediation, which was also published in 2015 and was previously reviewed at PAXsims.  It might also be compared with Mark Carnes’ Minds on Fire: How Role-Immersion Games Transform College (2014).

Ben-Yehuda and her colleagues makes much more effort to relate simulation use to the teaching of international relations than either of the other two (although, in fairness, Carnes’ book is really about using role-play simulations in the teaching of history and the humanities). World Politics Simulations is, however, often a rather more laborious read than the other two, lacking the lively style of Carnes in particular. Gill also does a better job at addressing some of the issues that arise in a simulation, and different methods for handling them. All three volumes are very much describing on their own preferred model, and do not fully address other approaches, materials, software, and resources. Finally, the Gill volume is by far the cheapest of the three, since it is available as a free download.

Overall, this is a welcome contribution to the growing literature on the use of simulations in the political science classroom.

Simulation & Gaming (April 2018)

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The latest issue of Simulation & Gaming 49, 2 (April 2018) is now available.

Editorial
Articles

 

Simulation articles in the Journal of Political Science Education

JPSE.jpgThe latest issue of the Journal of Political Science Education 13, 3 (2017) contains several simulations-related articles:

Pursuing Ideology with Statecraft

Hayden Smith and Niall Michelsen

Utilizing a web-based simulation Statecraft, we explore the relative influence of ideology (realism and idealism) on student behavior and learning. By placing students into ideologically cohesive groups, we are able to demonstrate the effect of their ideology on the goals they pursue and identify the constraints imposed on the system by the behavior of groups as well.

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Methods? Methodological Games and Role Play

Nina Kollars and Amanda M. Rosen

In terms of gamification within political science, some fields—particularly international relations and American politics—have received more attention than others. One of the most underserved parts of the discipline is research methods; a course that, coincidentally, is frequently cited as one that instructors hate to teach and students hate to take. Given the well-documented merits of games in promoting student engagement and the key role of methods as a building block to student understanding of political science, this article attempts to rectify this oversight by introducing three games—Zendo, Murder Mystery, and the Archeologist’s Quandary— geared at teaching key concepts and approaches in research methods.

There is No Debriefing Without Prior Briefing: Writing a Briefing Memo as a Preparatory Activity to Make the Most of the Pedagogical Potential of Simulations

Vincent Druliolle

Simulations are traditionally divided into three phases, namely preparation, interaction, and debriefing. This article argues that the first phase has been neglected. The preparation phase is indeed widely seen as necessary but merely instrumental to the interaction phase of simulations rather than as a self-contained activity that may also provide an opportunity to make the most of their pedagogical potential. This article explains how writing a briefing memo to prepare a simulation challenges this taken-for-granted view. After outlining the reasons why I asked the students of my Introduction to International Relations module to write a briefing memo about the conflict in South Sudan in preparation for a simulation of the negotiation of a peace agreement, the article explains how it can be used to generate a stimulating class discussion. It then emphasizes how the three phases of the simulation fruitfully complement each other and allow teachers to go beyond the instrumentalist conception of the preparatory phase. Finally, the conclusion reflects about the “portability” (Kollars and Rosen 2016) of the briefing-negotiation-debriefing format outlined in this article.

MORS: Validity and utility of wargaming

 

Stephen Downes-Martin (organizer and chair of Working Group 2 at the October 2017 Military Operations Research Society special meeting on wargaming) has passed on to PAXsims the group’s extensive (173 page) report on the Validity and Utility of Wargaming  (pdf). It is an outstanding piece of work, and should be essential reading for anyone working in the field. I’ll certainly be assigning it as required reading in my small conflict simulation design seminar next term.

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In part because of the structure of the MORS working groups, the report tends to devote more attention to game design and execution than it does to game analysis and interpretation. One of the interesting issues to arise out of the DIRE STRAITS experiment in September, however, was that different groups of analysts can both assess the validity/utility of a game differently, and draw different sets of lessons from the same wargame event.

Building on the excellent work of Stephen and his WG2 team, this is a challenge that I hope to explore more fully at the Connections US wargaming conference in July 2018—conditional, of course, on acceptance of my presentation proposal!

Rubel: Wargame rules as intellectual catalysts

Phalanx 50-3The most recent (September 2017) issue of the Military Operations Research Society’s Phalanx contains a thoughtful piece by CAPT Robert (Barney) Rubel on the role that wargame rules and adjudication can play in encouraging—or stifling—creative thought:

One of the more trite phrases one hears today is the injunction to “think out of the box.” The intent of the phrase is to stimulate creative thinking; to come up with ideas that perhaps do not conform to existing frameworks. This, of course, is easier said than done, the attempt to do so being akin to trying to make a list of things you would never think of. There are any number of individual and group techniques that have been developed to facilitate the process of brainstorming, but perhaps overlooked in the literature is the potential for wargame rules to act as catalysts for out-of-the-box thinking.

The subtle, nonintuitive, and perhaps threatening information and ideas that can emanate from a game can be termed “whispers.” Games often produce more information than their designers intended or expected, often equivocal and open to interpretation. When that threatens organizational equities, ears are deadened to the whispers. Game sponsors, players, umpires, and even analysts are almost never objective about their games, so it requires an appreciation of how novel thinking can emerge from a game in order to take the steps necessary to achieve sufficient objectivity to detect the whispers (Rubel 2006).

You’ll find the full piece here.

 

Review: The Confrontation Analysis Handbook

Review of: John Curry and Mike Young, The Confrontation Analysis Handbook: How to Resolve Confrontations by Eliminating Dilemmas, Innovations in Wargaming series (History of Wargaming Project, 2017). 92pp. £14.95 pb.

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Confrontation analysis an approach to the study of conflict, and the conduct of (largely non-kinetic) operations, first developed by Nigel Howard. It treats such issues as a series of linked confrontations, and offers a structured methodology for understanding and resolving these. In this handy volume, Mike Young and John Curry offer an overview of the technique, and show its application to a range of issues: the Bosnian conflict (1995), the Iranian nuclear program (2000-15), the Eurozone crisis (2011), the Libyan Civil War (2011) and Arab Spring, and future tensions in the South China Sea.

Confrontation analysis appears to be a useful technique for enabling participants to identify differences and disputes between conflicting parties, map out their preference structures and key obstacles, and identify ways of resolving these dilemmas. In this sense it overlaps the categories of both “(war)game” and scenario analysis. A skilled facilitator would appear to be essential, one that not only understands confrontation analysis well, but who can also help participants frame their insights and perspectives in a way in way that fits with the requirements of the technique. Even if one does not fully adapt the approach, it is also easy to see how aspects of it might be used to clarify differences in BOGSAT discussions or as a sort of auxilliary non-kinetic dispute resolution/adjudication method in more kinetic games.

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The approach also be used in conjunction with a deck of MaGCK estimative probability cards when one wishes to quickly canvass a group for their assessment of how likely an action is to succeed.

Review: Modern Crises Scenarios for Matrix Wargames

John Curry and Tim Price, Modern Crises Scenarios for Matrix WargamesHistory of Wargaming Project, 2017. 126pp.  £13.95

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This volume—by the ever-prolific John Curry of the History of Wargaming Project, and the always-elusive “Tim Price,” international man of mystery—offers several modern-era scenarios suitable for matrix games. Following a brief introduction to the matrix game method, the scenarios included in the volume are:

  • Baltic Challenge (NATO-Russian posturing in the Baltic Sea)
  • Mare Nostrum (NATO-Russian posturing in the Black Sea and eastern Mediterranean)
  • Nine Dash Line (incidents in the South China Sea)
  • Election in Centralia (an election in a “fictional” developed country with a two-party democracy featuring a with a bicameral legislature, a presidential system with an electoral college, and subject to Russian cyber-meddling…)
  • DPRK (conflict on the Korean Peninsula)
  • De Valera’s War (Irish neutrality during WWII)

In each case a scenario overview and background is provided, together with briefings for each player. Sample counters (available for download) are also provided.

Altogether this is a useful example of the many ways that matrix games can be used to explore complex conflicts. The scenarios would also all work great with MaGCK: The Matrix Game Construction Kit, which will be formally unveiled at Connections UK 2017—just a week and a half from now!

UK MoD: Wargaming Handbook

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The Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre of the UK Ministry of Defence has just issued their new 98 page Wargaming Handbook—and it is available as a free download.

In the preface, the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff notes:

Wargaming is a powerful tool. I am convinced that it can deliver better understanding and critical thinking, foresight, genuinely informed decision-making and innovation. Sir John Chilcot’s report highlighted
these very themes. I have also been struck by how important wargaming is becoming among many of our allies and partners. It allows those involved to experiment and learn from their experiences in a ‘safe-to-fail’ environment.

I wish to reinvigorate wargaming in Defence to restore it as part of our DNA. Historically the UK military was accomplished at wargaming but this culture has largely been lost. Where it exists, it is ad hoc and uncoordinated, with demand outstripping existing expertise. We must seek to regenerate this culture and the associated skills among our people – military and civilian alike – at all levels and in all areas of our business. This effort requires everyone’s participation and encouragement, but particularly at senior levels.

The Wargaming Handbook is the first publication of its type in Defence. It is an important element of this initiative and a key resource for us all. I commend it to you.

The Handbook contains chapters on:

  • Introducing wargaming (Chapter 1)
  • Wargaming fundamentals (Chapter 2)
  • Wargaming types, variants and contexts (Chapter 3)
  • Wargaming process (Chapter 4)

…plus annexes on “Applying wargaming to Defence problems” and “Further reading and information.” It is extremely instructive reading, and will certainly be a seminal resource in the professional wargaming community for many years to come.

PAXsims gets a few mentions too!

Jensen: Wargaming the changing character of competition and conflict

SB4.png And there’s still more on wargaming at the Strategy Bridge! Today it is Benjamin Jensen (Marine Corps University) on “#Wargaming the Changing Character of Competition and Conflict” —and it’s not so much an article as it is an invitation to readers to participate in a series of collaborative online wargames over the coming year:

Over the next year, as a part of an ongoing series on #wargaming, we will return to Moltke’s vision of a series of map exercises that illuminate the changing character of war and, in the process, help the military professional develop new theories of victory.  Every month #wargaming will feature a vision of the next war by publishing a campaign-level decision game.  These short, seminar-style games are designed to help national security professionals think about multinational  campaigns and major operations possible, but not necessarily probable, in the near future.  These modern map exercises can be played individually similar to a tactical decision game, or used by a group to discuss military strategy and practice.

The games in this series will be take the form of short, seminar games that can be conducted by collaborative networks of individuals sharing their ideas or in small groups.  The games will establish a scenario and available forces.  Based on this initial data, readers can discuss military options, possible adversary countermoves, and the resulting cascading effects.  These discussions provide a vehicle for the national security professional to visualize and describe the changing character of war.

Jones: Communicating uncertainty in #wargaming outcomes

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Another day, another wargaming article at The Strategy Bridge! This time it is Mark Jones Jr. on  “Communicating Uncertainty in #Wargaming Outcomes.”

If a game were played one hundred times, would the outcome be the same every time? On the one hand, we do not expect the tactical results of this game to appear identical, but would the strategic outcomes appear consistent across countless repeats of game play? Is there any chance that strategic outcomes would vary? If so, how much? It’s certainly expected that small variations of the strategic outcomes may appear in repeated wargaming, but is it plausible to believe that some percentage of outcomes would suggest a completely opposite strategy or strategic outcome? These questions are what we mean when we ask, “How much confidence do we have in the outcome?” Unfortunately, we are ill-prepared to answer this question but not for dearth of tools and technology to make such assessments. Instead, there is a chance that most of us would not accurately comprehend such a confidence statement. This occurs largely because of a lack of shared understanding of a shared language of confidence and uncertainty. To help us build a vocabulary for answering these questions, I would like to propose three foundational rules. First, we should express wargame outcomes both qualitatively and quantitatively. Second, we should attempt to describe the range of possible outcomes. Finally, we ought to assess the frequency of potential outcomes.

Oh, and if the game in the graphic header looks familiar—it’s from Alex Langer’s prototype wargame on the Syrian civil war (one of the best insurgency wargame designs I’ve ever played).

Rothweiler : Wargaming for strategic planning

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It’s Wednesday, and the Strategy Bridge features yet another article in their week of wargaming analysis and discussion. This time it is Krisjand Rothweiler (US Army War College), who addresses “#Wargaming for Strategic Planning.”

Wargaming in most Department of Defense contexts consists of the action-reaction-counteraction of the Joint Operations Planning Process and is usually the first thing that comes to mind when this tool is mentioned. A close second to “planning” wargames are exercises conducted at the tactical and operational level, often also called by the same name. However, both these fail to consider strategic decision making exercises. Strategic decision making exercises can be described broadly (though not exclusively) as wargames, either seminar or matrix, which leverage gaming tools such as dice, cards, or boards and tokens to facilitate the process. These games are applicable to strategic planning, but are generally limited to academic (including military) institutions or small cells in strategic organizations due to the specialization required to construct and run such games. What this essay aims to do is introduce to planners and analysts the broader concept of wargaming while highlighting the utility of these alternate methods in planning and supporting military leaders.

He goes on to discuss seminar games, matrix games, and other approaches—and even cites PAXsims in the process. He concludes by noting:

Wargaming is not just a planning process step for military staffs but includes a variety of methodologies that are useful in informing strategic decision making and aiding in the development of strategies and contingency plans prior to or during detailed planning. By bringing wargaming into the planning process early and often, a staff can enable the inclusion of a wide variety of information and escape the often-hyper-focused mentality that comes at the initiation of a headquarters planning process. Finally, for those potential wargame sponsors, there are numerous military, academic, and private capabilities to enable the design, execution and analysis of wargames to address their objectives.

Brynen: #Wargaming unpredictable adversaries (and unreliable allies)

SB2.pngAs part of a week of articles on wargaming, the Strategy Bridge today features a piece by me on “#Wargaming Unpredictable Adversaries (and Unreliable Allies).”

One challenge in wargaming, and especially political-military (POL-MIL) games, is how to best model the behavior of unpredictable, even apparently irrational, foes. Is the mercurial behavior of North Korea’s “Supreme Leader” Kim Jong-un, Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, or Joseph Kony of the Lord’s Resistance Army truly irrational, or is it a simply the product of a very different set of interests and objectives sustained by a very different world-view? To what extent do seemingly erratic aspects of their strategic behavior derive instead from factors we don’t understand well, such as internal politics or decision-making process? It has been well established since the POL-MIL wargaming of the 1950s and 1960s that actions that one actor believes to be rational signals of intent or deterrence are often entirely misunderstood by their intended recipient, in large part because they are deeply shaped by internal decision making processes that opponents fail to appreciate or understand.[i] How do we incorporate this into wargames when, almost by definition, we do not fully understand what is going on?

This ongoing methodological challenge has acquired greater significance in the context of recent political changes in the United States. Leaving issues of political partisanship aside, it is clear that many US allies find the new Administration of President Donald Trump to be unpredictable—to the point of posing a potential threat to their countries’ core national interests.[ii] Harsh campaign rhetoric, a seemingly chaotic foreign policy making process, mixed signals, and the propensity of the President to express his thoughts in provocative tweets have left many allied policymakers scrambling to develop contingency plans in case long-established US positions or commitments are no longer credible.[iii] Indeed, even those members of the US State Department charged with reassuring nervous US partners express frustration that they are often unclear as to what American policy is on any given day.[iv] The result has been an increasing interest in some allied countries in gaming the US as a potentially unreliable military-diplomatic ally, or even—on some non-military issues, like trade or climate change—as a political adversary….

Comments are welcomed.

McDermott: Psychology, #Wargames, and the Duel

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Strategy Bridge kicks off a week of wargaming articles with a piece by Thomas McDermott entitled “In the Mind of the Enemy: Psychology, #Wargames, and the Duel.” McDermott is Director of the Cove, the Australian Army’s professional development network.

In war the duel should be all.  My experience, however, is that too often it is not.  The article will discuss how linear doctrine, a lack of understanding of psychology, and ultimately poor strategy leads to a situation where ‘plans’ become an end in themselves, and not a means to win the duel.  It will suggest two ways to address this problem; the establishment of the field of psychology as a pillar of the modern profession of arms, and a reinvestment in the art of the wargame.

It’s an excellent start to the series, and well worth reading.

Review: Paddy Griffith’s Counter-Insurgency Wargames

John Curry, ed. Paddy Griffith’s Counter Insurgency Wargames (History of Wargaming Project, 2016). 91pp. £12.95pb

 

Griffith.jpegPaddy Griffith—military historian, lecturer at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, hobbyist, and founding member of Wargame Developments— was an influential figure in the evolution of British wargaming. In this volume, John Curry and his History of Wargaming Project have collected together materials from two counterinsurgency (COIN) simulations that Griffith developed in the late 1970s, as well as the outline of the main components of a live action exercise. Prolific COIN wargame designer Brian Train provides a Foreword to the collection, placing the wargames in the broader context of developments in counter-insurgency doctrine and practice.

If the first game, LONGREACH VILLAGE (1980), looks rather like a fictionalized British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary hunting for an IRA active service unit in a Northern Ireland border village—well, that’s hardly surprising, for such was the counterinsurgency challenge that would be faced by young British officers at the time. Today,  when most insurgencies and COIN wargames alike involve underdeveloped and failed states, it may all seem of marginal relevance. After all, this is not a setting where there are major impediments of poverty, language, or cultural understanding. Instead the background materials outline the milkman’s daily routine, the opening hours of the pubs, banks, and shops, and details of the local farmers’ market. However, in doing so the game provides an outstanding example of the sort pattern-of-life analysis that underpins local intelligence collection and tactical patrolling in almost all peacekeeping, COIN, counter-terrorism, and stabilization operations. This is something that—with the notable exception of Jim Wallman’s BARWICK GREEN game—is almost completely absent from modern wargames on the topic , which focus instead on either local armed clashes or larger-scale operational and strategic issues. Is Mr. X acting suspiciously, or is he they simply eccentric? Is a meeting in the pub a benign collection of friends, or a plot in progress? Where can you best position an OP to observe civilian (and possible insurgent) activity without being spotted? Where should vehicle checkpoints be established? What sorts of information should you be collecting? Who might be hoarding precursors for IEDs and other weapons, and how would you know?

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The border village of Longreach.

The wargame is largely played by having the Security Force and Red Cell players allocate personnel to missions, schedule their various activities, and plot their locations or routes, with the umpire then adjudicating the outcomes. The book also contains some brief suggestions for resolving some activities on the tabletop. Supporting materials include a map of the village, background information on the villagers, a list of daily routine activities, as well as the assets available to the Security Forces and Red Cell.

The second COIN exercise is SUMMER IN ORANGELAND, which envisages possible terrorist activity by the “People’s Liberation Army” in the fictional town of Dodgem-on-Sea. Any resemblance here to IRA cells (or perhaps 1970s era leftist terrorists) operating in the mainland UK would not be coincidental. In this case the primary government actor is the local police force which, in addition to dealing with a possible terrorist cell, also has to cope with a busy schedule of other challenges: planning and security for the summer carnival, a football final, a concert, gold bullion shipments, and even a royal visit. The terrorists—some of whom have decidedly Irish surnames—must plan and execute a plot before they are discovered. In typical Paddy Griffith fashion, there are a few curveballs and eccentricities to keep the players on their toes.

The final exercise, GREEN HACKLE, is a series of live-action tactical vignettes to be carried out over three days by approximately 250 Sandhurst cadets operating in a mock-up village training area. The book contains a list of scripted events, plus some photographs.

Altogether, this slim volume provides fascinating insight into British counterinsurgency training in the 1970s and early 1980s. Moreover, the first two games highlight key challenges of tactical intelligence and analysis that remain highly relevant to contemporary COIN, counter-terrorism, peacekeeping, and stabilization operations. They are easily adapted or modified for classroom use, or could provide the inspiration for similar sorts of wargames set in other, rather different, political and cultural contexts.

(Matrix) wargaming to support strategic planning

Last year Murray Dixson, Michel Couillard, Thierry Gongora, and Paul Massel of Defence Research and Development Canada wrote a paper on “Wargaming to Support Strategic Planning” which describes DRDC’s study of matrix games as a tool to explore the Force Development Scenario Set used by the Canadian Armed Forces as part of their capability-based planning process:

The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) capability based planning process uses a set of force planning scenarios to assess different options for the capability requirements of future forces. A good understanding of the key drivers of the scenario is important so that the subject matter experts can more fully understand and identify the capabilities required for success in it. A project is underway to investigate whether this capability identification can be enhanced through the use of various wargaming techniques. The Matrix game methodology is one that has been chosen for this research and was used in a recent series of research games. An ISIS conflict scenario was used as an explorative tool in all the games which were played out using several combinations of player types. Each iteration of the game was analysed using a set of metrics to help determine the utility of the games for the force planning application. The results are provided in this paper.

Readers of PAXsims will already know something about this, based on Ben Taylor’s thoughtful piece on serious matrix games, our game at the University of Ottawa, and our various other posts about the ISIS Crisis game that was used as a testbed for the study.

The study concludes:

As a result of these experiments a number of useful observations were obtained concerning the intricacies of organising and conducting a wargame; the value of participating in a wargame from the players’ perspective; and the potential applicability of augmenting Canada’s capability assessment efforts with one or more wargames. In terms of conducting a wargame, valuable experience in understanding the importance of the rules and structure of the game; of the principles and limits of keeping players involved in the game; and of the nature and key role that the GM or adjudicator plays in the conduct of a successful game. From the players’ perspective new players gained a greater understanding of the Matrix wargaming methodology, and more experienced gamers gained a greater appreciation of the many layers of complexity and dynamics that characterise this regional conflict. Finally, in terms of the relevance of Matrix wargaming methods to supporting Canada’s capability assessment effort, this experiment was limited by the nature of the game itself. The ISIS Matrix game is a replication of a complex, multiplayer, geo political situation. As such, it was observed to be a useful platform for introducing some of the region’s complexities to the assembled players. This would seem to have similar promise if this methodology were to be applied to one or more of Canada’s defence planning scenarios, but this clearly resides in the realm of future work.

I think Murray and the team are right that ISIS Crisis is a game heavily skewed towards political-military dynamics—in their test games, kinetic actions only accounted for slightly more than half of all player moves. Moreover, because military actions are dealt with at high level of generalization and abstraction, ISIS Crisis may not be very useful at teasing out questions of capability.

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However, that is in large part a function of the scenario design: a better test of the matrix game method for capability-based planning would probably focus on military activities more narrowly, with units on the map representing clearly-defined assets rather than indicators of relative combat power, and a more rigorous time scale for player actions.

On the other hand, as DRDC’s RCAT playtest suggested, some of DND’s current Force Development Scenarios probably hinge far more on political and other non-kinetic actions than is intended. Political-military matrix games as useful for pretesting and refining planning scenarios, and could certainly be used to generate vignettes that could then be explored in greater detail through a capability-based matrix game, another type of wargame, or other forms of analysis.

The DRDC report also offers some interesting insight into the challenges of game adjudication (in the MAGIC 1 playtest they describe, where I was double-hatted as both facilitator and subject matter expert, left an impression among some of heavy-handed adjudication), compressed vs extended playtime, the ease of learning the rules, and other issues. It is very helpful reading for those considering using matrix games as an accessible method for wargaming complex problems.

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