Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Category Archives: simulation and gaming publications

RAND: Opportunities for Including the Information Environment in U.S. Marine Corps Wargames

RAND recently published a report by Christopher Paul, Yuna Huh Wong, and Elizabeth Bartels on Opportunities for Including the Information Environment in U.S. Marine Corps Wargames.

The U.S. Marine Corps and joint concepts and thinking increasingly emphasize the role of information in military operations—from maintaining situational awareness to influencing adversary decisionmaking and understanding the behaviors of noncombatant populations. At the same time, wargaming is enjoying renewed prominence in the defense community as a tool to explore potential future conflicts and shape strategy. Yet, the information environment (IE) remains underdeveloped and underrepresented in wargames, both in the Marine Corps and across the U.S. Department of Defense.

An examination of requirements, principles from military theory, current doctrine, and commercial gaming practices points to solutions and changes to game mechanics to better incorporate information considerations into wargame planning, development, and play in ways that can be customized according to available resources, capabilities, and goals. Recommendations target wargame sponsors, wargame designers, and those who are responsible for procuring new tools and recruiting personnel to support wargaming.

Operations in the IE play a role across the spectrum of conflict, and their effects and consequences extend beyond the IE. As the nature of conflict changes, it is critical that wargames reflect realities on the ground, supporting forces in using and defending against increasingly important information-based tools of warfare.

Their key findings…

The IE is receiving greater attention than ever from operational planners, but it has not universally found its way into wargaming.

•Information is playing an increasingly important role in military planning in the U.S. Marine Corps, across the U.S. Department of Defense, and among potential near-peer adversaries. These operational considerations include how certain types of information, misinformation, or sources of influence affect the decisions, beliefs, and behaviors of forces, military leaders, and noncombatants during a conflict or military campaign.

•Concurrently, wargaming has seen an increase in popularity as a method to explore future conflicts in a low-risk environment. However, these games have mostly retained traditional attrition-based models or focus on a small subset of information-related challenges, such as situational awareness or the fog of war.

…and recommendations:

• Everyone involved in wargaming should acknowledge the role of information in operations and seek to better represent the relevant aspects of the IE in games.

• Wargame sponsors should ensure that games serve a broader purpose of preparing forces for realistic operational scenarios, which will inevitably be influenced by the IE. This means emphasizing the role of the IE and its relevance to the game’s purpose at each stage of a game’s design and execution.

• Wargame designers should work with sponsors to identify options for incorporating the IE into games from the earliest stages of planning.

• Those who procure wargame capabilities, including game materials and technologies, should select tools that are able to represent all three spheres of conflict (morale, mental, and physical), a range of conditions that could affect a game’s outcome, and robust models of human dynamics, psychological factors, and information flows.

• Those responsible for recruiting personnel to support wargame design, testing, and execution or identifying subject-matter experts to assist with specific aspects of these tasks should ensure that these contributors have the requisite knowledge of the concepts and practices related to operations in the IE and that they stay current on changes in operational realities.

The personalities of miniature wargame players

Robert Körner, Jana Kammerhoff, and Astrid Schütz (Otto-Friedrich-University of Bamberg) have just published a fascinating article in the Journal of Individual Differences (2020) entitled “Who Commands the Little Soldiers? A Comparison of the Personality Traits of Miniature Wargame Players With Other Gamers and Non-Gamers.” The article is pay-walled, so you will need an individual or institutional subscription to access the full text.

The popularity of miniature wargames (MWGs) has recently been on the rise. We aimed to identify the personality characteristics of people who play MWGs. Whereas the popular media have suspected that fantasy role-playing and war-related games cause antisocial behavior, past research on tabletop role-playing has shown that gamers are creative and empathetic individuals. Previous studies have investigated pen-and-paper tabletop games, which require imagination and cooperation between players. Tabletop MWGs are somewhat different because players compete against each other, and there is a strong focus on war-related actions. Thus, people have voiced the suspicion that players of this type of game may be rather aggressive. In the present study, 250 male MWG players completed questionnaires on the Big Five, authoritarianism, risk-orientation, and motives as well as an intelligence test. The same measures were administered to non-gamers, tabletop role-playing gamers, and first-person shooter gamers.

Their findings? Tabletop wargamers are a lot like other gamers* and don’t fit the anti-social stereotype very well:

In the present study, we analyzed differences in intelligence, risk-orientation, authoritarianism, as well as other motives and personality traits between players of MWGs and comparison samples comprised of people who played other types of games and the general population. When compared with the GP, MWG players reported higher openness, higher extraversion, and lower conscientiousness. The same pattern was found when comparing tabletop RPG players with the GP, suggesting that MWG players and RPG players resemble each other. Both types of gamers also reported more openness than FPS gamers. MWG players and RPG players also reported lower conscientiousness than the GP, which may be surprising as painting little soldiers or familiarizing oneself with complex rule-sets are activities that require exactness and a focus on detail. It is possible that the gamers do not view themselves as conscientious in everyday life, but when they engage in gaming activities, they may be rather thorough. Hence, follow-up studies could compare how gamers describe themselves with respect to their everyday activities and their gaming behavior.

No differences between the groups were found for neuroticism and agreeableness. Thus, gamers cannot be regarded as emotionally unstable or disagreeable

individuals – as some stereotypes claim. With regard to rea- soning ability, all players scored higher than participants from the GP. Results also indicated significant differences with respect to conventionalism, authoritarian submission, and authoritarian aggression such that all three groups of gamers described themselves as less authoritarian than participants from the GP did. Of the groups of gamers, RPG players reported the least authoritarian attitude.

With respect to everyday risk-orientation, MWG players’ self-reports were similar to those of RPG players, and both types of gamers reported less risk-orientation than non- gamers. FPS gamers reported a similar risk-orientation as the GP. Interestingly, MWG (and RPG and FPS) players described themselves as acting in a significantly more risk-oriented way during gaming than in their everyday lives. Apparently, gaming behavior does not transfer to everyday behavior. Alternatively, gaming could actually compensate for everyday behavior (i.e., cautious people might like to take risks in a context where no real danger exists).

Regarding motives, MWG players had higher affiliation values than individuals from the GP and the RPG sample. No differences between MWG players and others were found on the power, achievement, and fear motives. With respect to intimacy motives, MWG players scored higher than RPG players did. Apparently, MWG players appreciate close interpersonal relationships.

To summarize, in line with our second hypothesis, MWG players may be seen as open-minded, empathetic, non authoritarian individuals. The competing hypothesis that described MWG players as war-loving, power-oriented, and irreconcilable was not supported by players’ self- reports.

Further, people will only engage in these games during their leisure time if they experience MWG activities as pleasant. The sample of MWG players was high in openness, intelligence, and affiliation. This suggests that the ludological concept of enjoying a pastime may well describe the background of MWGs. Only people who perceive these complex and sociable games that require strategic thinking as a pleasant pastime will be attracted by these games.

Overall, the stereotypes that gamers are antisocial (DeRenard & Kline, 1990) as claimed by the media from the 1980s and 1990s to the present day (Curran, 2011) were not supported. Instead, the present results fit into the RPG literature that portrays RPG gamers as empathetic and socially skilled (Curran, 2011; Meriläinen, 2012). However, the stereotype of gamers as nerdy and sharp-minded does seem to have a kernel of truth, and because reasoning scores were high in all three samples of gamers. And as reasoning ability is a key predictor of academic and occupational success (Kramer, 2009), MWG players cannot easily be dismissed as acting in a dysfunctional manner.

You’ll notice, however, that all of the subject sample (n=250) is male—underscoring the lack of diversity in hobby wargaming.

The sample group is also German-speaking, leaving open the possibility that their are differences across national gaming communities. Almost one-third of the sample were Warhammer 40K players. While the Warhammer community harbours a significant racist and misogynist subcommunity attracted by the dark dystopian militarism of the 40K game universe, other parts of it are also extremely diverse and open.

In terms of future research, the authors note:

This study provides initial insights into personality differences between MWG players and others. In future investi- gations, it will be fruitful to use experimental or longitudinal designs to draw conclusions about causality and answer questions such as: Can MWGs improve participants’ social skills? Can creativity and intelligence be enhanced by engaging in MWGs? Furthermore, observer ratings or infor- mant reports could be included to provide information beyond self-reports. Another interesting question would be whether personality traits predict certain motives to play MWGs (see Graham & Gosling, 2013). All in all, further psychological and transdisciplinary research in the field of MWGs may help us understand the roles of games and playing in forming psychological attitudes and abilities.

As we showed, MWG players are a distinct sample that has a specific personality pattern. Commanding little soldiers and fighting other gamers with the help of these soldiers seems to be an activity that is preferred by open, unconventional people with a high affiliation motive – and it is even possible that the activity may be suitable for developing social skills such as negotiating. Why not engage in MWGs?

*MWG: miniature wargame(rs) FPS: first-person shooters RPG: role-playing game(rs) GP: general population

RAND: Building a Broader Evidence Base for Defense Acquisition Policymaking

1200px-Rand_Corporation_logo.svgRAND has recently published a brief report by Elizabeth Bartels, Jeffrey Drezner, and Joel  Predd on Building a Broader Evidence Base for Defense Acquisition Policymaking, in which they explore the potential role of serious games in exploring procurement and investment decisions.

One of the primary responsibilities of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment (USD[A&S]) is to ensure the health of the overall defense acquisition system (DAS). USD(A&S) can bolster the health of the DAS by developing and promulgating sound acquisition policy that improves the function and operation of the DAS at the enterprise level. The premise of this report is that acquisition policymaking should be data driven. However, there are limitations to relying on empirical (e.g., historical) data to guide acquisition policy. In light of these limitations, the authors argue that acquisition policymaking should be evidence based, in recognition of a wider variety of analytic tools that can be brought to bear on acquisition policy questions. This report, intended for acquisition professionals, summarizes the case for a broader evidence base and then focuses on one specific tool that the authors suggest might add analytic value: policy gaming.

Policy gaming can be used to generate observations about how stakeholders might change their decisionmaking and behavior in light of changes in policy. Because the strengths and limitations of games differ from those of traditional tools for acquisition analysis, the authors argue that games complement the existing portfolio of analytic approaches. The authors describe a prototype game focused on Middle-Tier Acquisition (MTA) policy that RAND researchers developed to enrich the available evidence base to support acquisition policymaking, summarize insights from the game, and offer several next steps for USD(A&S) to consider.

Among their findings, they suggest:

  • Games can provide useful evidence about proposed policies by providing a sandbox to observe decisionmaking.

  • Games appear to be valuable in cases where relevant real-world data are not available because the new policy or other condition of interest has not yet occurred.

You can download the report at the link above.

Exercise Cygnus pandemic report (2016)


The Guardian has published a lightly redacted version of the Public Health England report on the 2016 Exercise Cygnus pandemic exercise. You’ll find a link in the article above, and we have also uploaded a copy to PAXsims.

Some 950 representatives of various UK government agencies and institutions took part in the exercise on 18-20 October 2016.  It found both strengths and significant deficiencies in pandemic preparedness.


The report contains a full description of the lessons learned, as well as details of exercise planning and format (Annex C).


For other materials on pandemic simulation, see the PAXsims COVID-19 serious gaming resources page.

Recent simulation and gaming publications, April 2020


libraryalexandria.jpgPAXsims is pleased to present a selection of recently-published items on simulation and serious gaming. Some of these may not address conflict, peacebuilding, or development issues at all, but have been included because of the broader perspective they offer on games-based education or analysis.

Articles may be gated/paywalled and not accessible without subscription access to the publication in which they appear.


Itai Brun and Anat Ben Haim, “Are We Really on the Brink of Escalation on the Northern Front? Insights from a War Game,” Institute for National Security Studies Insight 1263 (2020).

The possibility that the northern arena is on the brink of escalation and liable to deteriorate into war was raised on several recent occasions, including: the annual intelligence assessment of the Military Intelligence Directorate that was presented to military reporters; a speech by the Chief of Staff on December 29, 2019 at a conference in Herzliya; and the INSS annual strategic assessment published at the start of 2020. In contrast with these assessments, the war game held as part of the INSS annual international conference in late January 2020 saw a different result. Despite an escalation scenario that could have led to a large-scale conflict in several arenas (resulting in “the first northern war”), during the game, all of the players – Israel, Iran, Hezbollah, Syria, Russia, and the United States – made significant efforts to prevent a deterioration to such a war. The scenario in the game was of several days of high-intensity combat, which all of the players sought to end quickly. This outcome could stem from the limitations of the game, but it also raises the possibility that the weight of restraining factors is more extensive than recently assessed, thus enabling Israel greater freedom of operation that could indeed lead to escalation, but not necessarily to a large-scale war.

Rex Brynen, “Virtual paradox: How digital war has reinvigorated analogue wargaming,” Digital War (online first March 2020).

War has become increasingly digital, manifest in the development and deployment of new capabilities in cyber, uncrewed and remote systems, automation, robotics, sensors, communications, data collection and processing, and artificial intelligence. The wargames used to explore such technologies, however, have seen a renaissance of manual and analogue techniques. This article explores this apparent paradox, suggesting that analogue methods have often proven to be more flexible, creative, and responsive than their digital counterparts in addressing emerging modes of warfare.

Warfare has become increasingly digital. Militaries around the world are developing, deploying, and employing new capabilities in cyber, uncrewed and remote systems, automation, robotics, sensors, communications, data collection and processing, and even artificial intelligence. The wargames used by governments to explore such technologies, however, have seen a renaissance of manual and analogue techniques. What explains this apparent paradox?

This article will explore three reasons why analogue gaming techniques have proven useful for exploring digital war: timeliness, transparency, and creativity. It will then examine how the field of professional wargaming might develop in the years ahead. To contextualize all of that, however, it is useful to discuss wargaming itself. How and why militaries use games to understand the deadly business of warfare?

John Curry, “The Utility of Narrative Matrix Games: A Baltic Example,” Naval War College Review 73, 2 (Spring 2020).

The focus of professional gaming has shifted over time from the kinetic so as to include wider aspects of confrontations beyond war fighting, such as national will, social media, economics, and the laws of war. While traditional wargame models have struggled to represent these factors adequately, the matrix game narrative method offers utility for gaming current political crises.

John Curry, “Professional Wargaming: A Flawed But Useful Tool,” Simulation & Gaming (online first April 2020).

Rationale for the Article. Professional wargames have long been an integral part of the tool set used by the military. The literature includes many examples of wargames that have been successful in terms of training, military education, procurement, operational analysis and planning for war. However, retrospective examination demonstrates that many of these professional wargames also had major errors in them and by implication current games about future confrontations are similarly flawed. Nevertheless, the academic evidence is clear that such games are still invaluable tools.

Methodology. Ten years of research into the development of wargames undertaken by the History of Wargaming Project has analysed and made generally available more professional wargames than ever before. Retrospective examination of a sample of these declassified games, from the British War Office Rules (1896) to more recent games about the Ukraine, shows significant errors.

Value. Demonstrating that professional games had errors in the past opens challenges the overconfidence in the predictive capacity of games. It also raises the possibility for future research to identify game design bias and to develop better games in the future. Understanding the value of better games, even with their inherent issues, raise the possibility of better preparing decision makers for the future.

Notes. The words wargame and game are used interchangeably in this article. Whilst the techniques used in professional gaming evolved from modelling the battlefield, modern professional gaming is increasingly focussed on other situations that are not war, such as state level confrontations, trade wars, politics, cyber conflict, banking crisis etc. Using the term wargame seems inappropriate when for example, gaming a shipping dispute. All the games referred to this article, unless otherwise noted, are professional wargames, used by military, government, public sector bodies and other parties directly involved in real world issues. The prefix professional has been omitted for brevity in most places.

Benjamin Davies, Kaitlin Rainwater, Lovett Brittany Card, David Polatty, Urban Outbreak 2019 Pandemic Response: Select Research & Game Findings (US Naval War College, 2020).

This document is a summary of 16 key research and game findings focused specifically on the characteristics of civil-military response to a pandemic
scenario. The numbered bullets below correspond to more detailed explanations of findings presented later in the document. While these findings are in no way definitive or complete, they are a sampling of relevant guidance based on research, gaming and expert opinion. It is our hope that these 16 findings will contribute to improving civilian and military effectiveness in humanitarian assistance and disaster response operations.

Note on Urban Outbreak 2019

The document references “Urban Outbreak 2019,” which was an analytic war game designed, delivered and analyzed by NWC’s Humanitarian Response Program in collaboration with Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) – National Center for Disaster Medicine and Public Health (NCDMPH) and Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Lab. In September 2019, Urban Outbreak brought together 50 experts from five different sectors who averaged 10 years of humanitarian response experience. Over two days they gamed an infectious disease outbreak response in a notional but realistic city with a population of 21 million people. As part of the game, players individually voted for up to five essential organizations to which they needed access in order to complete the activities they deemed essential for success in the response. Histograms of those votes are offered in appendix I & II. The scenario-based aspects of the game that focused specifically on the unique characteristics of urban response in a widespread outbreak are also listed in appendix III.

Stephen Hart, Andrea Margheri, Federica Paci, and Vladimiro Sassone, “Riskio: A Serious Game for Cyber Security Awareness and Education,” Computers & Security (online first, 29 April 2020)

Cyber attacks are increasing in number and sophistication, causing organisations to continuously adapt management strategies for cyber security risks. As a key risk mitigation policy, organisations are investing in professional training courses for their employees to raise awareness on cyber attacks and related defences. Serious games have emerged as a new approach that can complement instruction-led or computer-based security training by providing a fun environment where players learn and practice cyber security concepts through the game. In this paper we propose Riskio, a tabletop game to increase cyber security awareness for people with no-technical background working in organisations. Riskio provides an active learning environment where players build knowledge on cyber security attacks and defences by playing both the role of the attacker and the defender of critical assets in a fictitious organisation.

Tim Koller, Hugh Courtney, and Dan Lovallo, “Bias busters: War games? Here’s what they’re good for,” The McKinsey Quarterly, 16 April 2020.

Despite their best intentions, executives fall prey to cognitive and organizational biases that get in the way of good decision making. In this series, we highlight some of them and offer a few effective ways to address them.

Our topic this time? War games: Here’s what they’re good for.

There’s usually a steep price to pay when you fail to anticipate competitors’ actions and reactions, or who the competitors even are. France, for instance, spent ten years and billions of francs to erect a collection of concrete forts, obstacles, and weapons installations—called the Maginot Line—to stop German forces from invading with tanks. But French military leaders didn’t anticipate that, in the period between World War I and World War II, Germany would change course and adopt a blitzkrieg strategy, increasing its use of air strikes and invading through neutral countries like Belgium. French out­posts and citizens were left open to attack (exhibit).

The fate of a nation was not at stake, but a maker of medical equipment similarly faltered because of competitive blind spots. It was first to market in the 1970s with groundbreaking computed-tomography (CT) scanning technology, but it didn’t anticipate how many other innovators would enter the market, find new uses for its technology, and build high-level sales and product-marketing capabilities around the applications. The medical-equipment manufacturer eventually ended up exiting the business because it couldn’t keep up with the specialized competitors.

The research

Whether in the military or in business, strategy decisions are interdependent decisions most of the time. So why do executives so often fail to anticipate competitors’ moves when making their own? Competitor neglect is a manifestation of the inside view, in which decision makers lend more weight…

Kurt Matzler, “Crowd Innovation: The Philosopher’s Stone, a Silver Bullet, or Pandora’s Box?” NIM Marketing Intelligence Review 12, 1 (2020)

Not all innovation problems are suitable for open innovation, but crowdsourcing can have remarkable success if applied wisely to the right challenges.

Peter J. Schwartz et al, “AI-enabled wargaming in the military decision making process,”  SPIE Defense + Commercial Sensing Proceedings Volume 11413, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning for Multi-Domain Operations Applications II; 114130H (2020).

During the Course of Action (COA) Analysis stage of the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP), staff members wargame the options of both friendly and enemy forces in an action-reaction-counteraction cycle to expose and address potential issues. This is currently a manual, subjective process, so many assumptions often go untested and only a very small number of alternative COAs may be considered. The final COA that is produced might miss opportunities or overlook risks. This challenge will only be exacerbated during Multi-Domain Operations (MDO), in which larger numbers of entities are expected to coordinate across domains to achieve converged effects within compressed timelines. This paper describes a prototype wargaming software support tool that leverages Artificial Intelligence (AI) to recommend COA improvements to commanders and staff. The tool’s design accounts for operational realities including a lack of available AI training data, limited tactical computing resources, and a need for end user interaction throughout the COA Analysis process. Given initial COAs for friendly and enemy forces, the tool searches for improvements by repeatedly proposing changes to the friendly COA and running the Data Analysis and Visualization INfrastructure for C4ISR (DAVINCI) combat simulation to evaluate them. Runtime is managed by carefully restricting the search space of the AI to only consider doctrinally relevant changes to the COA. The system architecture is designed to separate the AI, the simulation, and the user interface, simplifying continued experimentation and enhancements. The design of the AIenabled wargaming tool is presented along with initial results.

Andoni Zamora Txakartegi, “A piece of land that only exists while the fiction is played,” Sandburg Instituut (2020?)

I write about the architecture of simulation. I explore replicas of urban landscapes in which various types of interventions are staged, from rescue missions, to police and military exercises. In this specific context, buildings, structures, and scenographies are designed in order to provide a specific fictional space for the representation and the drills to be performed as realistically and efficiently as possible. The services and forces of professionals and trainees are given a space to test and train the efficacy of exercising control or fighting speculative scenarios. Similarly, this space allows them to fully demonstrate the destructive potential of their armor and weaponry.

As soon as I started digging into these spaces of ​training and rehearsing fiction​, the more I began to apprehend a vast hidden and twisted scenario where the practices of power and control are literally translated into space. The opaque cloud of mystery around the actual politics and purposes at stake within these camps suggests that these places are not only intended for ‘training’, but that a larger scheme of offensive and defensive speculation is developed within these simulated territories.

But, overall, a more structural approach is what I intend to approach with this work. The text is a reflection on the limits of representation in this particular context of production: Not only about the kind of content that is played in there – from accidents to terrorist attacks – but the choices around how it is played. What kind of decor is designed for it? What is the extent of the training that the professionals need in order to learn how to face a specific threat? Which is the model of reality that is followed or copied in the staging, and how is it translated into a fiction? In all of these choices which shape the reality in these camps, there is implicit an unavoidable relation to modern societies.

Ying Zhao, “Modeling multi-segment war game leveraging machine intelligence with EVE structures,” SPIE Defense + Commercial Sensing Proceedings Volume 11413, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning for Multi-Domain Operations Applications II; 114130H (2020).

The paper depicts a generic representation of a multi-segment war game leveraging machine intelligence with two opposing asymmetrical players. We show an innovative Event-Verb-Event (EVE) structure that is used to represent small pieces of knowledge, actions, and tactics. We show machine learning algorithms that can modify, link, and combine the EVE rules to optimize the likelihood to win or lose a game in the end. We also show the war game paradigm and related machine intelligence techniques, including data mining, machine learning, and reasoning AI which have a natural linkage to causal learning.

Professor Game podcast: Chan on GridlockED

PG.jpgProfessor Game is a weekly podcast by Rob Alvarez Bucholska (IE Business School) which interviews “successful practitioners of games, gamification and game thinking” to share “the best of their experiences to get ideas, insights and inspiration to make learning experiences meaningful.”

The latest interview (April 20) is with Dr. Teresa Chan (McMaster University), designer of the hospital emergency room management game GridlockED.

A regular day for Teresa normally involves a lot of academic work and therefore she would only be working 6-7 shifts a month, however, that academic work has now ground to a halt and she is focused on providing clinical care given the pandemic. She is also part of the medical school with medical students to teach and they’re currently receiving a virtual curriculum.

One of Teresa’s favorite fails comes from when she was trying to implement the gamification approach into her continuous learning. She had the chance to create a competency-based medical education program that had a lot of elements of gamification. Although this pilot was good it wasn’t really much considered. Now there is a national platform that was somewhat informed by this experience so although Teresa’s pilot wasn’t used it laid the foundations for the national platform. If Teresa were to approach this again, she would focus more on gaming and gamification ensuring the game is seamless, usable and intuitive. She has found all the things she learned in game design has made her a better assessment designer and something she is applying to her workplace-based assessment systems.

Teresa’s favorite success comes from her game Gridlocked. The original idea came when talking to a colleague about what she was going to do after her thesis, she spoke about how disaster simulations are often done as tabletop games, similar to a war game, and it is used to consider how they would make moves within a simulation environment. This inspired her as there is often a lot of disasters in the emergency department but was no way to get the knowledge about it without being in the emergency room itself. We went on to understand what a multi-patient environment means and how to help upcoming doctors able to handle the kind of difficulties related to those environments. The main lesson she learned was when developing a game, you need other people to develop with if you have a complex game you need a good team to back you up. Another key learning for her was that the first draft is never the best one.

She would recommend identifying what assets you have on your team as this can be greatly advantageous to your project. For example, although Teresa was competent at creating graphics, she knew that Simon on her team had a lot of experience creating infographics and he ended up being the person to design most of the actual game who was crucial.

You’ll find our PAXsims review of GridlockED here.

Review: Parkin, A Game of Birds and Wolves

The following review was written for PAXsims by Tim Borsilli. Tim is a teacher and lecturer based in New York with a keen interest in the use of simulation and gaming as pedagogical tools. His studies focus on the history and intersection of war games, war planning, and war fiction


Review: Simon Parkin, A Game of Birds and Wolves: The Ingenious Young Women Whose Secret Board Game Helped Win World War II (New York: Little, Brown and Company) 320p.

45730911.jpgThe release of a new book on historical wargaming, sadly, is a shockingly rare occurrence – rarer still one designed for a general reading public, rather than wargaming’s professional analyst class or its grognard hobbyists. This is one thing that makes A Game of Birds and Wolves, a recent release by Simon Parkin, a contributor for The New Yorker and game critic at The Observer, such a welcome respite. Within, Parkin examines the little-known Western Approaches Tactical Unit (WATU) that operated out of Derby House in Liverpool during World War II and its contribution to the Allied war effort in the Battle of the Atlantic. Specifically, Parkin is interested in looking at how this unit was able to use war games to help develop anti-submarine tactics to counter the German U-boat effort, as well as the unusual role that the women from the Women’s Royal Navy Service (colloquially known as Wrens) played in this process at a time when women were only begrudgingly permitted to perform even secretarial roles in the armed forces.

A few things make this book stand out from others on the “serious games” shelf. The first is that, unlike most of the highly technical, scholarly literature on this topic, Parkin brings an unusual, but welcome, narrative flair to his account. This is a work of creative nonfiction, that somewhat ambiguous genre most closely associated with longform, glossy magazine pieces. A Game of Birds and Wolves largely succeeds in this stylistic approach. It’s evocative prose and source-driven dialogue recreate the tense atmosphere of a wartime Britain in desperate straits. It’s narrative admirably brings Captain Roberts and his staff of young women to life, even if Parkin must reach on occasion where it seems the historical record is a bit thin. This could well be the books greatest strength: introducing wargaming to a wider audience in a way that is both compelling and human.

Despite being targeted at a broader readership, the “serious” gamers shouldn’t sleep on this one. Parkin offers a well-researched, detailed, and personal account that – while not as analytical as some of the academic work on the same topic – sheds light on a period when properly applied gaming contributed to the Allied war effort. Perhaps most importantly, it outlines the contribution of women, a demographic group that has been historically marginalized in both military histories generally, and in the history of wargaming specifically.

From a historical perspective, the WATU games are something of an outlier in the historiography. Except for the United States Navy, which had a robust wargaming culture, the Allies used conflict simulations far less than the Axis powers. The general historical consensus has been that the Allies strayed away from gaming during the war, favoring instead the burgeoning field of operational research. Only a scant few war games were employed during the war itself, and those that were conducted tended to be rudimentary or impromptu affairs. This stands in stark contrast to the Germans and Japanese, both of whom practiced mid-war gaming to plan major operations.

What this book offers, then, is an incredibly detailed, intimate, and personal look at an instance that flies in the face of this long-held assumption. Moreover, while serval factors helped turn the tide in the Atlantic, Parkin makes a compelling case that the tactics that emerged from this unit played an important role in the anti-submarine campaign. Exactly how much is difficult to tell, though Parkin is quite bullish on the impact of the games. At the very least, the widespread dissemination of these tactics through the WATU school serves as an excellent case-study in how gaming and simulation can be a valuable pedagogical tool for exploring new possibilities and actively sharing them.

Even more unusual from a historical perspective was the critical role the Wrens played in the process. Wargaming has been, for most of its history, a male-dominated space. Obviously, as highly patriarchal institutions, professional militaries were incredibly resistant to allow women into the fold until very recently. As Parkin notes, even the British, who might pat themselves on the back for the sheer fact of the existence of the Women’s Royal Navy Service, were reluctant to allow women to perform roles of real responsibility.

This problem, however, is not limited to merely the naturally conservative armed forces. James Dunnigan, perhaps the man best in a position to know, has estimated that among the commercial wargaming community, only somewhere around 1% of active gamers are women. There have long been significant barriers to women entering this space, and despite what some have argued, these barriers are not biological, but rather social and cultural. But the culture is changing.

Today, many women have entered this formerly male-dominated space, particularly in the professional community. Slowly, perhaps too slowly, the craft is shaking off its boy’s club veneer. A Game of Birds and Wolves is an excellent book to signal the changing of this tide, and possibly introduce a wider audience to the community. With the film rights already picked up for a possible adaption by Amblin Partners, Steven Spielberg production company, this effect could be amplified.

A Game of Birds and Wolves is therefore important on a variety of fronts. It succeeds on a surface level as a stirring, well-told account about a long overlooked historical episode. Its narrative tone sets a high bar in a field that can at times be dry and academic. For those interested in serious games and their history, it provides an intriguing counterpoint to traditional notions of how the Allies used gaming, not merely for pre-war planning, but also for active training and tactical troubleshooting. And, most importantly, its centrality on women sheds a much-needed light on a group that his been systematically overlooked.

Tim Borsilli  


Bartels: Building better games for national security policy analysis

Bartels.pngIt’s out! Ellie Bartel’s long-awaited PhD dissertation on Building better games for national security policy analysis is now available on the RAND website.

This dissertation proposes an approach to game design grounded in logics of inquiry from the social sciences. National security gaming practitioners and sponsors have long been concerned that the quality of games and sponsors’ ability to leverage them effectively to shape decision making is highly uneven. This research leverages literature reviews, semi-structured interviews, and archival research to develop a framework that describes ideal types of games based on the type of information they generate. This framework offers a link between existing treatments of philosophy of science and the types of tradeoffs that a designer is likely to make under each type of game. While such an approach only constitutes necessary, but not sufficient, conditions for games to inform research and policy analysis, this work aims to offer pragmatic advice to designers, sponsors and consumers about how design choices can impact what is learned from a game.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One
    • Introduction: Games for National Security Policy Analysis and How to Improve Them
  • Chapter Two
    • Study Approach
  • Chapter Three
    • Towards a Social Science of Policy Games
  • Chapter Four
    • Four Archetypes of Games to Support National Security Policy Analysis
  • Chapter Five
    • Designing Games for System Exploration
  • Chapter Six
    • Designing Games for Alternative Conditions
  • Chapter Seven
    • Designing Games for Innovation
  • Chapter Eight
    • Designing Games for Evaluation
  • Chapter Nine
    • Trends in RAND Corporation National Security Policy Analysis Gaming: 1948 to 2019
  • Chapter Ten
    • Conclusions, Policy Recommendations, and Next Steps
  • Appendix ASample Template for Documenting Game Designs

Recent simulation and gaming publications, March 2020


PAXsims is pleased to present a selection of recently-published items on simulation and serious gaming. Some of these may not address conflict, peacebuilding, or development issues at all, but have been included because of the broader perspective they offer on games-based education or analysis.

Articles may be gated/paywalled and not accessible without subscription access to the publication in which they appear.


Emily K. Brunson et al, “The SPARS Pandemic 2025–2028: A Futuristic Scenario to Facilitate Medical Countermeasure Communication,” Journal of International Crisis and Risk Communications Research, 3, 1 (2020).

Effective communication about medical countermeasures—including drugs, devices, and biologics—is often critical in emergency situations. Such communication, how- ever, does not just happen. It must be planned and prepared for. One mechanism to develop communication strategies is through the use of prospective scenarios, which allow readers the opportunity to rehearse responses while also weighing the implica- tions of their actions. This article describes the development of such a scenario: The SPARS Pandemic 2025–2028. Steps in this process included deciding on a time frame, identifying likely critical uncertainties, and then using this framework to construct a storyline covering both the response and recovery phases of a fictional emergency event. Lessons learned from the scenario development and how the scenario can be used to improve communication are also discussed.

John Curry, “The Utility of Narrative Matrix Games—A Baltic Example,” Naval War College Review 73, 2 (Spring 2020).

The focus of professional gaming has shifted over time from the kinetic so as to include wider aspects of confrontations beyond war fighting, such as national will, social media, economics, and the laws of war. While traditional wargame models have struggled to represent these factors adequately, the matrix game narrative method offers utility for gaming current political crises.

Levent Durdu, “Digital Games for Peace Education,” Empowering Multiculturalism and Peacebuilding in Schools (2020).

Interactive, communicative, and participatory activities contribute to the effectiveness of peace education. The use of games in educational settings is expressed as educational games. From the Oregon Trail to today’s highly interactive games, many games have been used to support learning in many subjects. To state it specifically about peace education, the history of digital games for peace education started with My City (1995), supported by UNICEF, continued with games aiming different learning subjects, such as Escape from Woomera (2003), Ayiti (2006), PeaceMaker (2007), Hush (2007) and This War of Mine (2014). The most important contribution of these games in terms of peace education is that individuals gain empathy and perspective. These gains at cognitive and affective domains will contribute to individuals to be more successful in conflict resolution. The games introduced in this chapter are detailed with their pros and cons within the scope of peace education. The researches based on these games are included, and the critical findings of these studies are discussed.

Emil Lundedal Hammar, Producing & Playing Hegemonic Pasts: Historical Digital Games as Memory-Making Media, PhD thesis, UiT Arctic University of Norway (November 2019).

Article 1: Counter-hegemonic Commemorative Play: Marginalized Pasts and the Politics of Memory in the Digital Game Assassin’s Creed: Freedom Cry (published in Rethinking History)

Article 2: Playing Virtual Jim Crow in Mafia III – Prosthetic Memory via Historical Digital Games and the Limits of Mass Culture (published in Game Studies)
Article 3: Producing Play under Mnemonic Hegemony: The Political Economy of Memory Production in the Games Industry (published in Digital Culture & Society)

Article 4: Mapping Experiential Memory-making Through Play: How Digital Games Frame Cultural Memory (submitted to Memory Studies)

Nicolas Schillinger, “Playing Soldiers: The War Game in Late Qing and Republican China,” Journal of Chinese Military History, online first ( March 2020).

In the early twentieth century, Chinese military reformers introduced the war game to improve the training of officers and professionalize their education according to foreign role models. The war game or Kriegsspiel was a tabletop device used to simulate tactical and strategic problems, which originated from the Prussian army and was very popular among German officers. It was adopted in other European countries and the United States as well as Japan, and was eventually played in the late Qing New Armies and the Guomindang’s National Revolutionary Army. From its inception at the turn of the century until the end of the Republican era, it was supposed to increase tactical abilities, leadership skills, discipline, and knowledge of specific procedures and regulations. Besides improving their skills as military commanders, wargaming enabled Chinese officers to incorporate transnational military cultural codes of conduct, and thus emulate and perform “modern” military professionalism.

Virtual paradox: how digital war has reinvigorated analogue wargaming


The soon-to-be-launched journal Digital War has published an (online first) article by yours truly on the utility of analogue wargaming in examining the challenges of warfare in the digital age.

War has become increasingly digital, manifest in the development and deployment of new capabilities in cyber, uncrewed and remote systems, automation, robotics, sensors, communications, data collection and processing, and artificial intelligence. The wargames used to explore such technologies, however, have seen a renaissance of manual and analogue techniques. This article explores this apparent paradox, suggesting that analogue methods have often proven to be more flexible, creative, and responsive than their digital counterparts in addressing emerging modes of warfare.

Warfare has become increasingly digital. Militaries around the world are developing, deploying, and employing new capabilities in cyber, uncrewed and remote systems, automation, robotics, sensors, communications, data collection and processing, and even artificial intelligence. The wargames used by governments to explore such technologies, however, have seen a renaissance of manual and analogue techniques. What explains this apparent paradox?

This article will explore three reasons why analogue gaming techniques have proven useful for exploring digital war: timeliness, transparency, and creativity. It will then examine how the field of professional wargaming might develop in the years ahead. To contextualize all of that, however, it is useful to discuss wargaming itself. How and why militaries use games to understand the deadly business of warfare?

You can read the full thing at the link above. For more on the journal, see the Digital War website.

Free issue of C3i Magazine to take your mind off the current unpleasantness

Nr25 eBook cover.PNGC3i Magazine is making a free copy—including game materials/inserts—available for download. It even contains an article by me on using the game Labyrinth: The War on Terror in the classroom!

To be brief, we hope everyone is weathering the storm of this coronavirus pandemic as best as possible. In light of the fact that social distancing and self-quarantining have become part of our daily lexicon, we want to help out in our own small way by offering our C3i Nr 25 ebook for FREE to everyone for the next two weeks. Just add it to your cart, checkout, and you can download it from the comfort of your own home.

Stay safe out there!

Steve and Rodger

Nr25 eBook Table of Contents.PNG

C3i Magazine was started in 1992 by Rodger B. MacGowan, covering the Wargaming hobby with a focus on the graphic design of RBM Studios. C3i has supported new and upcoming releases from GMT Games, and has also featured interviews with major designers and gamers within the hobby. It has also served as a chronicle of the the history and contributions of other game companies like Avalon Hill, SPI, Game Designers Workshop, Yaquinto Games, Victory Games to name a few. C3i has also been a forum for discussing how boardgames are designed and developed, and showcases numerous insights into how to play wargames as well as explain the historical backgrounds of scenarios.

Simulation & Gaming (April 2020)

sgbarThe latest edition of Simulation & Gaming 51, 2 (April 2020) is now available.


  • Real, Half-Real, Irreal, Unreal
    • J. Tuomas Harviainen


  • The Climate Action Simulation
    • Juliette N. Rooney-Varga, Florian Kapmeier, John D. Sterman, Andrew P. Jones, Michele Putko, and Kenneth Rath
  • The Role of Epistemic Curiosity in Game-Based Learning: Distinguishing Skill Acquisition From Adaptation
    • Jonathan T. Huck, Eric Anthony Day, Li Lin, Ashley G. Jorgensen, Joseph Westlin, and Jay H. Hardy, III
  • Unlocking Student Engagement: Creation, Adaptation, and Application of an Educational Escape Room Across Three Pharmacy Campuses
    • Heidi Eukel, Jeanne Frenzel, Kyle Frazier, and Micah Miller
  • A Framework of Simulation and Gaming for Enhancing Community Resilience Against Large-Scale Earthquakes: Application for Achievements in Japan
    • Yusuke Toyoda
  • Gaming Exercise for Rights-Conversion-Type Urban Redevelopment Project in International Cooperation Context
    • Toshiyuki Kaneda, Mingji Cui, Sofia Sahab, and Ahmad Ramin Sadiq
  • Exploration of Two Different Structures for Debriefing in Simulation: The Influence of the Structure on the Facilitator Role
    • Randi Tosterud, Kristin Kjølberg, Arnhild Vestnes Kongshaug, and Jon Viktor Haugom
  • Pacing in Serious Games: Exploring the Effects of Presentation Speed on Cognitive Load, Engagement and Learning Gains
    • Dominik Petko, Regina Schmid, and Andrea Cantieni

Recent simulation and gaming publications, January-February 2020


PAXsims is pleased to present a selection of recently-published items on simulation and serious gaming. Some of these may not address conflict, peacebuilding, wargaming, or development issues at all, but have been included because of the broader perspective they offer on games-based education or analysis.

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


Nathan Altice, “Joy Family: Japanese Board Games in the Post-War Shōwa Period,” Proceedings of Digital Games Research Association 2019 (DiGRA 2019).

This paper draws on new archival and historical sources to survey the major developments in Japanese board games in the postwar Shōwa era (1945–89), including the import of American games, the emergence of Japan’s wargame culture, and the structural foundations of the ancient Japanese game of sugoroku. In particular, this paper identifies key cultural, economic, and design moments that led to Bandai’s unprecedented yet overlooked analog game output in the 1980s.

Linnea Bergsten, Supporting Resilient Behaviour in Simulation Studies: A study of how resilient behaviour can be enhanced in a crisis management exercise based on participants experiences (MA thesis, Linköping University, 2020).

A major disruption in the payment system would be a considerable societal crisis and is studied by a project called Creating Collaborative Resilience Awareness, Analysis and Action for Finance, Food and Fuel Systems in INteractive Games (CCRAAAFFFTING), using serious gaming and simulation. This study examines the experiences of the participants in the crisis management exercises. The research questions of this study are as follows: “How do the participants of the simulation studies of CCRAAAFFFTING understand the games?” and “How can the simulation environment be developed in order to encourage the participants to improve monitoring strategies during the games?”.

The study uses thematic analysis of qualitative interviews of the participants supported by questionnaires. The questionnaires were conducted directly after the games, and telephone interviews were conducted after the exercise.

This study found the following main themes in the participants’ experiences of the games: the crisis, the society that is handling the crisis, the game’s relation to reality, the importance of the group, and the exercise’s ability to support the interpretation of what is simulated. Some consideration for the project to work further with are that the simulation needs to be centred, simplified and made more available to the participants. The division of roles could divide the monitoring of different actions affecting different parts of the society between the participants. Furthermore, a representation of the overall payment system, its actors and the groups, might support the participants in sharing and understanding the actors of the payment system, and the effects their actions have on them, as well as the participants’ ability to monitor the changes.

Rex Brynen, “Crisis in Galasi: Simulating the Urban Dimensions of Religious Conflict.” In Mick Dumper, eds., Contested Holy Cities: The Urban Dimensions of Religious Conflict (Routledge, 2019).

The chapter describes  multi-day simulation of a fictional urban religious conflict, conducted as part of a larger academic workshop on the topic in March 2018.

After reviewing the value of simulation as a method for crowd-sourcing ideas and insight, it details the design, facilitation, play, and outcomes of “Crisis in Galasi.” This combined elements of a seminar game, matrix game, and negotiation game. The chapter then reflects on how the simulation enhanced the overall workshop experience.

Aaron Calhoun et al, “Exploring the Boundaries of Deception in Simulation: A Mixed-Methods Study,” Clinical Simulation in Nursing 40 (March 2020).

Background: Deception can be defined as causing someone to accept a falsehood as true. Within simulation, a deception is an aspect of the environment for which there is no clear agreement or knowledge among facilitators and learners about its ground rules, boundaries, or existence. The psychological literature surrounding deception is mixed, and little simulation-specific research exists.

Methods: This mixed-methods survey-based research explored attitudes for and against deception’s use and facilitator perceptions of psychological risk and ethical harm. Subjects consisted of a random sample of members from three international simulation societies that included nurses, physicians, standardized patients, and educational specialists. The survey was designed and tested using an iterative process and distributed using SurveyMonkey™. Descriptive statistics and thematic analyses were performed.

Results: Eighty-four (11%) of surveys were completed. Thirty-three percent of respondents currently use modification/deception, whereas 61 to 75% of respondents expressed psychological and ethical concerns. Thematic analysis yielded five themes: types of modification/deception, decision-making considerations and guardrails, never events (high risk), potential detriments, and potential benefits.

Conclusions: The use of deception appears relatively prevalent in the simulation community, but significant concerns also exist. Careful consideration of all relevant factors is needed if deception is to be used responsibly.

Albert (Treb) Courie, “Team Building through Gaming,” Army Lawyer 29 (2019)

[No abstract]

Andreas Haggman, “Wargaming in Cyber Security Education and Awareness Training,” International Journal of Information Security and Cybercrime 8, 1 (2019).

This paper introduces readers to core concepts around cyber wargaming. Wargames can be powerful learning tools, but few wargames exist to teach players about cyber security. By way of highlighting possibilities in this space, the author has developed an original educational tabletop wargame based on the UK National Cyber Security Strategy and deployed the game to a variety of organisations to determine its pedagogic efficacy. Overall, it is found that the game was effective in generating high- engagement participation and clear learning opportunities. Furthermore, there are design lessons to be learned from existing games for those seeking to use wargames for cyber security training and education.

Anna Sanina, Evgeniia Kutergina, and Aleksey Balashov, “The Co-Creative approach to digital simulation games in social science education,” Computers & Education 149 (May 2020).

This paper focuses on the educational possibilities and potential of digital simulation games in higher education. It provides the detailed examination of the true experimental design of a co-creative gamified classroom that could be used in different academic subjects in social science education. In this pedagogical experiment, we tested the effects of a co-creative gamification classroom within a Public Sector Economics course attended by 253 first-year master’s students. We used pre-test and post-test examinations, surveys, and interviews to evaluate and compare effects on learning outcomes and course evaluations of different classroom modes (with and without a co-creative approach and digital simulation games). This paper presents a quantitative and qualitative analysis of the proposed experimental design, using treatment and control groups. Our conclusions make a contribution to the discussion of the co-creative approach in education, proving that its digital implementation can develop students’ generic and professional skills. We also reveal a more conscious and motivated attitude toward the future profession of those students who participated in the process of creating the game.

Yuna Huh Wong et al, Deterrence in the Age of Thinking Machines (RAND, 2020).

The greater use of artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous systems by the militaries of the world has the potential to affect deterrence strategies and escalation dynamics in crises and conflicts. Up until now, deterrence has involved humans trying to dissuade other humans from taking particular courses of action. What happens when the thinking and decision processes involved are no longer purely human? How might dynamics change when decisions and actions can be taken at machine speeds? How might AI and autonomy affect the ways that countries have developed to signal one another about the potential use of force? What are potential areas for miscalculation and unintended consequences, and unwanted escalation in particular?

This exploratory report provides an initial examination of how AI and autonomous systems could affect deterrence and escalation in conventional crises and conflicts. Findings suggest that the machine decisionmaking can result in inadvertent escalation or altered deterrence dynamics, due to the speed of machine decisionmaking, the ways in which it differs from human understanding, the willingness of many countries to use autonomous systems, our relative inexperience with them, and continued developments of these capabilities. Current planning and development efforts have not kept pace with how to handle the potentially destabilizing or escalatory issues associated with these new technologies, and it is essential that planners and decisionmakers begin to think about these issues before fielded systems are engaged in conflict.

[Includes waregame description and analysis]

Simulation & Gaming (February 2020)


The latest issue of Simulation & Gaming 51, 1 (February 2020) is now available.


  • A Tribute to Some of Our Pioneers, Past and Present as We Move Beyond 50 Years With Simulation & Gaming
    • Timothy C. Clapper
  • Acknowledgment of Reviewers of Simulation & Gaming for 2019


  • The Evolution of Simulation-Based Learning Across the Disciplines, 1965–2018: A Science Map of the Literature
    • Philip Hallinger and Ray Wang
  • Do Badges Affect Intrinsic Motivation in Introductory Programming Students?
    • Lisa Facey-Shaw, Marcus Specht, Peter van Rosmalen, and Jeanette Bartley-Bryan
  • Video Game Pursuit (VGPu) Scale Development: Designing and Validating a Scale With Implications for Game-Based Learning and Assessment
    • Diana R. Sanchez and Markus Langer
  • Health$en$eTM: Developing a Board Game on Value-based Healthcare Financing
    • Harold Tan, Yap Chun Wei, Heng Wei Yun, Koh Eng Hui Joan, Ho Wai Yee, and Lim Yee Juan


NATO OR&A conference proceedings


The proceedings of the 2019 NATO Operations Research & Analysis conference have now been published on the NATO STO website. These include a number of wargaming presentation (including a keynote address by Stephen Downes Martin).

Most of the papers are open access, but a few are marked are marked NATO Unclassified (Releasable to PFP and Australia). To access those files you will need STO log-in credentials.

We published a report on the conference at PAXsims back in October.

%d bloggers like this: