PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Matrix games at the Canadian Army Simulation Centre

The following report was prepared for PAXsims by David Banks and Brian Phillips.


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Dave Banks of the Canadian Army Simulation Centre facilitates the use of a matrix wargame during the 2019 Civil-Military Interagency Planning Seminar.

For the first time in its ten year history, a matrix game was employed during the Civilian Military Interagency Planning Seminar (CMIPS) conducted from 18 to 20 June 2019 at Fort Frontenac in Kingston, Ontario. The planning seminar is run annually by the Canadian Army’s Formation Training Group with support from the Canadian Army Simulation Centre (CASC).

 

Background

The intent of CMIPS is to foster understanding among the interagency participants with the intent of building better relationships in advance of any future interaction overseas or domestic settings.  The CMIPS had approximately 50 participants with half coming from the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and the remainder drawn from other government departments and international and local non-governmental organizations. The participants were broken into balanced groups of military and civilians who then discussed a common scenario by way of a table top exercise (TTX). While this is a proven approach, the event organizer, Steve Taylor, felt that a matrix game could be an interesting improvement to the Seminar this year.

Dave Banks and Brian Phillips, Calian Activity Leads (ALs) at CASC, with the support of CASC and the help of the other Calian Activity Leads, designed, developed and conducted a Matrix Game for one syndicate of the CMIPS. Dave Banks served as the Controller for the activity and Brian Phillips served as the Scribe.

This matrix game was intended to:

  • foster cooperation and understanding among the players (primary goal);
  • be a proof of concept for CASC in applying matrix games as a training and education tool; and
  • introduce the players to matrix games.

 

Conduct

The matrix game was held over two days followed by a review on the third day. Specifically:

Day 1 consisted of an introduction to matrix games,  a briefing on the specific matrix game set in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a short read-in, and concluded with two hrs of play (two turns). During Day 1 the problem faced by the actors was the likely arrival of Ebola to North Kivu province. As much as possible, the participants represented their own, or a similar agency, during the game.

Day 2 consisted of two and a half hours of additional play. During this session a random event card was played that depicted the President of the DRC dying in a plane crash on landing at Goma in North Kivu province. While foul play was not suspected, the death of the president was expected to disrupt the political environment and potentially heighten the risk of violence throughout the DRC and in North Kivu in particular.

 

Differences from Other Matrix Games

While there is no definitive form or format for a matrix game, there were a few features of the CMIPS game that might not be commonly found in other matrix games.

Actor Cards.  The CASC product had fairly detailed Actor cards which included:

  • a brief outline of the nature, purpose and involvement of the Actor in the situation;
  • the Actor’s objectives, both overt and covert (where applicable);
  • the Actor’s limitations (ie: actions it would never take);
  • any specific special capabilities the Actor possessed (such as the ability to provide air or ground transport, deploy medical teams, etc);
  • the number, type and general location of map counters allocated to the Actor; and
  • a recap of the basic game procedures and concepts.

Further differences included having turns divided into three phases:

  1. Negotiation Phase (10 mins). During this phase the Players had 10 minutes to negotiate any support or cooperation they required amongst themselves.
  2. Argument Phase. Each player in sequence made their argument for their Actor’s action for that turn. Actions were adjudicated using a Pro and Con system and two six-sided dice.  Each player had a maximum of five minutes for their action which was strictly enforced by the Controller.
  3. Consequence Management (10 mins). During this phase the Scribe read back the Actions for the turn and some of the consequences were articulated including some consequences that the Players were unlikely to have foreseen.

 

Results

Overall, the matrix game was very well received by the participants. While the matrix game participants did not go into as much fine detail as some of the other syndicates did in their TTXs, the matrix game was immersive. One civilian participant remarked that the experience of uncertainty going into the first negotiation phase was exactly the same sort of experience that he had getting oriented on a previous humanitarian mission.

 

Key Findings

  • As this was the first matrix game run by ALs from CASC the three play testing sessions conducted prior to the event proved to be invaluable. Even with facilitators with significant experience in running TTXs, the specific preparation of the play testing was instrumental in successfully executing the matrix game at the first attempt. The time invested in deliberate play-testing and game development is well spent.
  • The two-person facilitation team of a Controller and a Scribe worked very well. Both the Controller and Scribe exercised firm control at different times to ensure the game stayed within the admittedly fairly wide arcs established for play. We strongly believe that this firm control is vital to the success of a matrix game: without it there is a risk that the game may degenerate, particularly if there are strong personalities around the table.
  • The key advantage of the matrix game noted by the players over a traditional TTX was the fact that the players had to participate. They could not sit at the table and just observe one or two participants dominate a TTX, rather, they had to make decisions and actively contribute.
  • There is ample reference material readily available to build matrix games from The Matrix Game Handbook(Curry et al.) to the Matrix Game Construction Kit offered by PAXsims and several online resources. As such it was fairly easy to find useful graphics for game pieces as well as ideas for rules, event cards, and game conduct through a simple web search. Tom Mouat’s website was invaluable and his Practical Advice on Matrix Games v10 was particularly useful.
  • The formal turn-structure of phased turns including, in particular, a Negotiation Phase, directly contributed to achieving the game objective of fostering co-operation and understanding amongst the players. The inclusion of a Negotiation Phase was one of the outputs of the three play-testing sessions.
  • The Consequence Management (CM) Phase was only partially successful. In future, this phase would benefit from some modification in implementation. At the end of the turn there should be a slight pause while the Controller and Scribe discuss CM and how they want it to proceed as it can function almost like a random event card. Thus CM should be implemented with some care and forethought. Whether that should be done as part of the CM phase or perhaps the CM phase should revert to a Situation Update/Summary phase. In the later case, the CM could be determined by the Controller and Scribe during the Negotiation Phase and briefed at the end of that phase. This will be play tested prior to the next running of the CMIPS matrix game.

 

Conclusion

The feedback from the CMIPS participants indicates that a matrix game proved to be a worthwhile investment of time and resources. These games take longer to prepare than a traditional TTX but the players’ active participation in the game experience made it a valuable learning event.

Matrix games have been added to the toolset offered by CASC and future serials of the CMIPS will likely continue to use this innovative activity.

 


Authors 

Lieutenant-Colonel (Retired) David Banks served 38 years in the Infantry, both Regular and Reserve. He is a graduate of the Canadian Army Command and Staff College 1990 and is a Distinguished Graduate of the United States Marine Corps Command and Staff College Quantico 1997-98. David has completed a number of overseas operational tours including Afghanistan, and participated in several major domestic operations in Canada. He has worked as an Activity Lead for Calian in support of the Canadian Army Simulation Centre and the Canadian Army Formation Training Group since 2011.

Lieutenant-Colonel (Retired) Brian Phillips spent 27 years in the Regular and Reserve force initially as an Infantry Officer and later as an Intelligence Officer. Brian holds an MA in War Studies (1993) and an MA in Defense Studies (2015) both from the Royal Military College of Canada and he is a graduate of the Canadian Army Command and Staff College in Kingston (2005) and the Joint Command and Staff Programme in Toronto (2015). Brian’s operational experience includes the 1997 Manitoba Floods, Bosnia, Kosovo, the Middle-East, Haiti with the DART in 2010 and Afghanistan twice. He has been employed as an Intelligence Specialist and Activity Lead for Calian in support of the Canadian Army Simulation Centre since 2017.

Connections 2019 report

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This year saw the Connections wargaming conference move to the US Army War College, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The event was just outside the base in the Army Heritage and Education Center, which was particularly helpful in that the administrative burden to get permission to attend for people like me (non-US citizen) was made significantly less onerous.

The event took place from Tuesday 13 Aug 19 to Friday 16 Aug 19.  Details of the programme are here.

I elected to fly over two days early because, thanks to changes in the Uk Ministry of Defence regulations, we are not permitted to drive having flown across the Atlantic until the following day. Since flying in to Washington and driving to Carlisle was considerably cheaper than trying to get closer by air (and gave me a car all week), it was an easy decision to make – and since the Battlefield at Gettysburg was on the route, I was able to get a little bit of military history on the way.

This year’s theme was: Futures of Wargaming – to which the obvious question was: was this to be about the “future of wargaming” or about “wargaming the future?” – to which the answer was “Yes!”.

Day 1

Colonel Russ Griffin welcomed us to the Heritage and Education Centre, explaining the purpose of the Center, along with the usual senior officer’s politically correct joke – but this time it was one about the fact that at the Gettysburg Cemetery, President Lincoln spoke his “few appropriate remarks” in less than 2 minutes, after former Secretary of State Edward Everett’s 2 hour oration. History remembers Lincoln, but few remember Everett – so his remarks were going to be like Lincoln’s – short and memorable, rather than long and forgetful. A fine ambition for a military officer and an anecdote that I shall steal for myself…

The programme this year was far more complex than usual, reflecting the high attendance, but the number of concurrent sessions caused frustration from the start, with Dean Cheng’s presentation on PLA Wargaming clashing with Mark Leno’s Computer-Assisted Wargaming. Since the topic of computer assistance was one that my superior headquarter was particularly interested in, I felt that duty came before personal preference and went to Mark’s session. I was not disappointed, however, as Mark gave a very interesting presentation on the practical aspects of computer assisted wargaming in a clear and frank manner, covering three separate game designs: An Information Warfare Game, a Defense Management Game and a Build the Force game.

The Information Warfare Game was a 7-Sided, blind, resource allocation game with a game map representing the cognitive space of the conflict with the aim of training the participants to think in a different way about the problem, allocating resources to discover information and apply influence. The challenge being to provide a gameboard capable of being centrally updated and delivered to different locations.

The Defense Management Board game was used to replace a written assignment as part of an existing exercise in order to make it more challenging. The requirement was intended to be part of a distance learning package using asynchronous turns, so players needed to manage their own time in planning and delivery. In essence the different roles represented by the participants had to agree 45 current and 16 future programmes going forward.

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The Build the Force game was to intended to get the participants to generate a balanced force, based on political and intelligence estimates, to meet and defeat any crises that develop during the game, at the minimum cost. The types of crises were graded from “most likely” to “least likely”, and used a mechanism to re-order them each turn. I was particularly interested in the fact that the students who elected to do excessive homework for the game doing some heavy math preparation tended to do well in the early stages of the game, but poorly later. That spoke to me of a well-balance design, where experience and intuition were also important. Managing the design to use real world force elements, with “ball-park” representation of costs, and still keep it unclassified, was also quite an achievement.

Mark was frank about the challenges of project like this, operating on military systems, using software tools (mostly Microsoft Office applications) that were universally available – rather than trying for bespoke solutions that would be extremely difficult to distribute and maintain. This meant that graphics would be limited, but the training burden would be lowered due to familiarity with the products. He also emphasised that it was essential to try not to be too ambitious and to keep solutions simple. A particularly helpful presentation intended to provide practical advice, rather than trying to make the team look clever.

For the second session, I elected to attend Joe Saur’s session on Combat Modelling, rather than Operational Wargaming in Korea or a session on Logistics. As a logistician by Arm of Service, I was tempted by a session referring to Logistics as the “Red-Headed Stepchild of Wargaming“, but in the end went with the Combat Modelling.

Joe is an extremely experienced instructor and his clear exposition on Attrition Models and Lanchester were very helpful, moving forward in complexity, covering factors in the modelling, with examples like the Madden NFL video game, through deterministic and stochastic models, and the sources of data.

I particularly like Joe’s discussion about the tendency to measure what is easy to measure and the problems associated in implementation between the Coders who make things happen in a simulation, versus the subject matter experts who have a more holistic view about the effects that changes in the variables might have.

This connected directly for me with the assumptions that designers make in their models, that may consciously or unconsciously reflect their biases, and the example provided in the UK’s Defence Wargaming handbook of the the “Gulf Strike” commercial boardgame during the First Gulf War (page 41). The designer, Mark Herman had developed a simple hobby wargame model, that was far more accurate than the multi-million-dollar simulations used by the DOD, as it was based on more realistic assumptions.

This was followed by a choice between Ed McGrady on Games as a form of Play, Merle Robinson on Megagame Design and Development, or Matt Caffrey with a book talk about On Wargaming. Since I have been playing Megagames for over 40 years, I was interested in Merle’s talk but felt I couldn’t really justify it, and Matt was to be presenting at UK Connections where I could see his talk, I elected to listen to Ed’s talk about Play.

Ed’s proposition is that play is underrated and that understanding it properly will give us insights into the process of learning, understanding and make for better games. He covered the elements that make up play, the huge range and diversity of play, relating them to games.

The “Magic Circle” was also covered. In games, the “magic circle” is the space in which the normal rules and reality of the world are suspended and replaced by the artificial reality of the game world. There is a boundary with an “inside” and an “outside”, but the boundary is porous, with the inside having its own unique rules but reflecting characteristics of the real world and the player can used this different cast on the real world, in order to help understand it and learn from it.

I was especially interested in his comments outlining the fact that surprise within the scenario is important in practicing the player in reacting to change (the Israeli Dado Center for Interdisciplinary Studies view this as extremely important for building adaptability). Also, the important psychological importance of the difference between an adjudicator rolling the dice, permitting the player to roll the dice, and requiring the player to roll his own dice. This is closely linked in my mind to the relationship between dice and understanding risk – and more importantly differentiating the difference between the understanding of a calculated risk and merely gambling.

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The essential point being that play is serious and has a significant impact on a wargame and removing all aspects of play from a game is a mistake – but also we can learn from a study of play about the essential elements that encourage “flow” (the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity), such as movement, haptics, surprise, challenge, etc. It was also illuminating to consider how computer games suppress many of these elements, while excessively indulging in others.

This was followed by a panel session on Wargaming Methods.

Jeremy Sepinsky started out with Programming with People about the organisation of the human component within the wargame, pointing out that whatever answer you get from a game will be meaningless unless you really understood the question the wargame was intended to answer in the first place. Players need to be organised in a way that supports answering the question and the more complex the question, the greater the number of people needed to address the question – and the greater difficulty you have in ensuring that the question is really understood.

He also pointed out that players require active management – you won’t get a second chance (unless you are really lucky), so they need to be kept focussed on the goal – but take care not to go too far to the extent that game play, or the people themselves, are adversely affected.

This was followed by Kenneth Sawka and Incorporating Structured Analytic Techniques into Business Wargaming. This was interesting – the method’s aim is to make the analytic process conscious and transparent, thus reducing the probability of errors caused by cognitive biases that go unchallenged in more usual unstructured and intuitive analysis – and the business use of the technique helped illuminate difference between that and the intelligence community. I especially liked the focus on assumptions, critical assumptions, checking assumptions and indicators of change and events that would change or invalidate assumptions.

Lastly Jim Markley talked about US Army War College Wargaming. This was the Strategic Wargaming Department and the use of games and exercises for education. What particularly impressed me was the range of diverse games and techniques (and my jealousy of their 3D printer and large-scale plotter). Chris Engle matrix games were singled out for a mention, which was nice to see as an accepted “mainstream” technique after all this time.

This was followed by another split session with the choices of Using Design Thinking for Designing Wargames by Yuna Wong, War Cry – Combat Force Cohesion and Capability Disintegration with Uwe Eickert or Gaming Urban Terrain and Megacities with Ed McGrady. Since I have been specifically asked to look at urban warfighting I elected to go with Ed again.

He covered a lot of ground in his presentation, pointing out that running this as a game was an abstraction, hoping to gain insights that would be useful, rather than an attempt to slavishly represent all aspect of urban combat.

There were a huge number of elements in urban combat that were of particular note in city environments, as well as the fact that every city presented unique terrain challenges due to the extreme diversity and that sweeping generalisations were not likely to be helpful. The terrain of course, was not limited to the surface physical domain, but covered sub-surface, cognitive and electromagnetic domains as well.

The issue was extremely challenging at all levels of representation and there are no easy answers. Many attempts at manual game structures tried in the past have been barely adequate and most computer simulations seeking to address the problem were extremely poor.

The day finished off with a Wargame Testing and Interactive Demonstration social session at the Desperate Times Brewery, which was very pleasant (but the background noise due to the building construction made communication difficult). I played Paul Vebber’s game about research and development in the production of the next generation submarine.

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Day Two

Day Two started with a Keynote from Dr Steven Stoddard, Deputy Director for Force Development. He elected to give a direct view on wargaming with the assertion that wargames inform change, and change needs leaders to make decisions. He chose to illustrate this with three examples: a NEO operation in the Pacific, a game for the Resolute Support HQ in Afghanistan and a game about near-peer warfighting prior to an Army modernisation programme. As he put it – telling war stories about wargames…

He gave a whole series of fascinating insights into designing games for senior leaders and the design process when you have high level games involving very senior officers and large numbers of them. The requirement for targeted rehearsals for mentors, facilitators and the Generals’ own staff; modifying the games based on the feedback received; all intended to ensure buy-in from the participants. I really liked the way in which success could be measured by the amount that the junior Generals and staff took over the debrief to present points to the Seniors.

Dr Stoddard was very open and frank about what worked well and what didn’t, and it was an outstanding presentation.

This was followed by a panel session on Futures Gaming.

Dr John Hanley talked about the CNO Strategic Studies Group Gaming, covering new concepts, requiring new models and the problem of proper validation. He took a historical view moving forward and finished with a clear view on what worked well and what did not.

Deon Canyon looked at Matrix Gaming at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, with some compelling insights into the current standoff with the DPRK and how the issue was examined in one of their courses. There were a number of observations raised on the technique, and modifications to make it work with the specific circumstances of the course that I found especially helpful. There was also a desire to come up with a system for indicating at a “winner” for the game, but I was please to see that this did not end up distorting the open-ended Matrix Game play.

Finally, Dr Kiran Lakkaraju talked about Experimental Gaming at the Nuclear Threshold. This was looking at experimental wargaming for National Security related to nuclear weapons, breaking the “nuclear taboo” and come up with some quantitative evidence from a large number of games. The technique used both manual wargaming in order to perfect the design, but also an on-line version. The Project on Nuclear Gaming (PoNG) is available to play at specific times as announced on the website. Some users have mentioned difficulty in running the game, but it is generating useful data. The manual board-game version was available to play in the demonstration sessions.

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We then went into the Game Lab sessions.

Again, as I have been given homework to do about urban operations, I went to the Future Combat in Megacities session. We were fortunate to have a diverse group discussing the topic, very capably led by Ed. The summary of the session that I gave to Yuna Wong afterwards really reflected the topic – it is hard to do – very hard. This was something of a relief to me as I had been struggling with the subject for some time. There are some good approaches, specifically the excellent We Are Coming, Nineveh! game from Juliette Le Ménahèze and Harrison Brewer at McGill (modified by Brian Train and Rex Brynen), but this was a level of abstraction that was unsuitable for many circumstances, and the equally interesting Urban Operations from Sébastien de Peyret, was seen as too complex for other circumstances.

We covered issues of gaming at the strategic, operational, tactical and detailed sub-tactical level; we looked at the difficulties of depicting structures, elevations, tunnels, line-of-sight (the game designer Jim Wallman physically modelled parts of a city using large quantities of foamboard and lasers for line-of-sight for one game); we also considered communications, cyberspace, casualty rates, logistics (drone delivery anyone?). The issue of hidden information and how that could be represented in a game was a complete topic in its own right.

An interesting point that had come out of last years’ Connections in Yuna Wong’s session on AI, was the possible use of AI “bots” not physically deployed in the city, but instead deployed “on-line” using algorithms to track down insurgents and enemy combatants from their communication interactions.

A very good point was made about the unique difficulties of representing civilians and their effect on operations at different scales – and the fact that a disproportionate amount of planning and game design made huge and often totally invalid assumptions about their behaviours and effects.

One of the fundamental issues is why a military force would wish to be involved in an urban location in the first place, since it was operationally so difficult. There are a number of possible reasons for intervention, such as vital route clearing or the destruction of enemy indirect fire assets using the terrain as cover, and it seems to me that each mission may require a slightly different approach to a possible game.

There was quite a lot of experimentation done in the UK about fighting in urban areas in the 1970s, some of the results of which are quite counter-intuitive, and are contained in the excellent book The Stress of battle: Quantifying Human Performance in Combat, by David Rowland, but it is out of print and very difficult to get hold of at a reasonable price.

In the afternoon we had the Gaming Showcase and Demonstrations. I put on a demonstration of a modification of the DSTL Cyber game that is used for training senior officers and students on Cyber courses offered at the Defence Academy of the UK. This involved the players attempting to carry out a Cyber attack on a piece of vital national infrastructure from the enemy point of view.

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Following dinner, the demonstrations continued and I was asked to repeat the Cyber game demonstration until we had to depart.

Day Three

The following morning started off with Commander Phil Pournelle, Retd, from ONA, on The Challenge Before Us. He observed that Secretary Bob Work had left the building and some of the impetus behind wargaming had slackened, but that the community was extremely vibrant and it was possible that we could “keep the nose up” on our flightpath and continue to deliver what was needed.

He observed that the nature of warfare had changed, needing new operational concepts that we didn’t have yet. We are not prepared for the new threats; our models are overly simplistic and simply not good enough for the current challenges. However, the analytical community and the wargaming community were actually starting to cooperate at last, so all was not lost. It was therefore essential to maintain momentum and made a plea to support the MORS Conference and other initiatives.

We then had a panel on Modelling and Wargaming.

This started with Jon Whetzel on Online serious gaming: Developing wargames for the crowd. Jon was part of the team from Project on Nuclear Gaming (PoNG), mentioned above and it was refreshing to have a younger member of the community presenting on the subject. He covered the types of applications used to create the Signal game and provided a number of key take-aways:

  • It is possible to create a complex game with a small team using open source software.
  • There is an underlaying dichotomy between the need for complexity to provide the analytical results and the need to make it entertaining in order to to get people to play the game (especially if you were not going to pay them).
  • Fidelity across mechanisms was important and part of the development process (Boardgame version vs the on-line game).
  • The technical infrastructure for an on-line game is at least as important as the game.

He was followed by Michael Robel with a presentation Toward Automating the Course of Action Generation and Staff Wargame. This is a key area of interest for the UK currently and was of particular interest to me. The presentation was very interesting – especially as the approach is a little different to the direction we are taking and seemed to support my view that the computer assistance is not there to select courses of action, but to highlight the ones that were most likely to fail and could therefore be discounted.

Brian Kirkpatrick followed with War Game Networks for Digital Distribution and Collaboration. He highlighted obstacles to technology transfer, from the concepts to the actual deployment, and the time it takes. In order to do digital distribution effectively, you need common platforms, services and data (matching Mark Leno’s comments from Day One).

Then we had Karl Selke with Modelling the player: A requisite for structured wargaming. The aim was empowering wargames through the automation of much that it was possible to automate, in order to get to a point where the wargames could generate robust analytical data.

We went on to the next group of seminar sessions: Data Collection and Analysis with Chris Weuve, A Wargaming Approach to Computational International Relationswith Karl Selke, and How to Improve your Communication Skills with Dana Lombardy.

I chose Chris, rather than Dana (despite, as an educator, wanting a view on improving my communication skills), because I felt that since the OR function in the UK MOD was now wholly the responsibility of the Defence Science and Technical Laboratory (Dstl), I had not had enough exposure to Data Collection and Analysis and this was an area of weakness.

Chris started with the comment that “A Wargame is often an act of Political Theatre” and carried on in a refreshingly candid style. He pointed out that wargames were full of stated and unstated assumptions, where best at posing questions rather than definitive answers and needed to be approached with realism rather than cynicism.

He also pointed out that the main purpose of the game report was normally to limit the claims made about the game results—so, in designing data collection and analysis, it was essential to plan for failure. You cannot analyse data that you didn’t capture and you cannot capture data that you didn’t generate.

Analysts need to be involved with the design of the wargame from the beginning as attempting to suddenly “bolt on” analysis afterwards was bound to end in failure. Data collection should be a mechanism of the game if it was not going to become intrusive and distort the game play (in the same way as Senior Officer “observers” often do) (interestingly there was a paper offered at the IITSEC Conference demonstrating that the physiological effects of fear and the stress caused by having your actions closely watched by someone sufficiently senior, are practically identical).

He stressed in analysing a game that you should be sceptical, highlight the subtle, caveat the limitations and ruthlessly quash the irrationally exuberant. In designing the game and the data collection plan, always get the sponsor to agree in writing, be realistic and plan for failure, document and critique the process and always have lots of office supplies…

He even provided a reading list:

I was extremely impressed with the presentation. Chris was very good at explaining how things were supposed to be, while all the time being totally comfortable in providing real world examples of why they were not, with the easy confidence of someone with a huge amount of experience in the field.

The next session was working groups on: The Future of Wargaming with Ed McGrady and Mike Ottenberg, Wargaming the Future with Stephen Downes-Martin and Wargaming for Future Leaders with Mike Dunn and James Morningstar.

I elected to take a look at the Future of Wargaming, since this was also an area where I was asked to look at specifically.

The session featured Pete Swan from VT Mak, which was a truly awful propaganda presentation (delivered on-line) about their product (VR Forces). Since VT Mak are part of the team involved in the US Army Synthetic Training Environment (STE), I can understand why they are asked to contribute, but equally having listened to BG Gervais explaining the ambition of the programme that went from exciting, to very challenging, directly into magical unicorn territory (given the timelines) (it gave me flash-backs to the FCS programme for those of you who remember that), I would have appreciated some indication (however optimistic) as to how they thought they were going to deliver.

However, this was followed by a truly excellent presentation from Lucien Parsons, Director – Mixed /Augmented /Virtual Reality Innovation Center (MAVRIC). He provided a candid and engaging insight into the use of VR/AR/MR (now called “XR”) that was of direct used in the courses that I deliver at the Defence Academy.

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The insights into the changing demographics of the gaming industry were especially useful as was the example of Maj Travis Sheets and Matthew Elmore in their paper Abstract to Action: Targeted Learning System Theory Applied to Adaptive Flight Training  in low cost pilot training.

There was an awful lot more in his engaging and frank presentation, including the dark side of the technological advances being made (such as privacy, eye tracking revealing hidden emotions, etc), and I would recommend checking out the slides when it is put up on the Connections website.

This led directly into the breakout session where we split into 4 sub-groups in order to examine the possible Futures of Wargaming through the mechanism of using quad charts with suitable axes such as low cost to high cost vs manual to digital techniques.

We elected to go for low cost to high cost against barely effective to very effective, but I am ashamed to say that was probably because I was influenced by the RAND paper on Collective Simulation-Based Training in the US Army that used the same axes and highlighted the problem of effective but hugely expensive and overvalued solutions, while failing to identify the cheap and effective alternatives (such as Majors Sheets and Elmore proposal for pilot training, above).

However, one of the other teams came up with the novel and interesting: Traditional to New Methods vs Physical to Cognitive. This generated quads of Physical/Traditional (Kriegsspiel), Traditional/Cognitive (Freudian) (like traditional Information Warfare and Pysops), to Physical/New Methods (Ender’s Game) and the most interesting Cognitive/New Methods (Minority Report/Inception).

This exercise was both fascinating and useful, and I shall ruthlessly steal the technique in the future.

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Day Four

The final day started with an excellent keynote from Ed McGrady, The Future of Wargaming – It’s up to you!

This was a call to arms for wargaming and a stern admonition that we need to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and start making better choices. Games are about understanding a problem, about narrative rather than data, they are not a science experiment – the story is champion in the experience. He pointed out that if the wargaming community fails to properly define its value to Defence, then someone else will…

He suggested that in order to be influential, influential players were needed – but care was necessary. They need to believe in the game and you need to give them a good experience. We need to concentrate our efforts on the right subjects – precisely those that are the current, hard topics, such as social media, influence, grey zone conflict, people, etc., and get the right people (decision makers) to take part.

We should also not be concerned with sniping from the margins about wargames not being repeatable – practicing decision making, for which wargames are ideally suited, is obviously repeatable – whereas Desert Storm was the very definition of a one-off event (that really wasn’t instrumented properly) (and people took a great many questionable conclusions about the future of war from it).

The game might be unique, but themes emerge, and these provide the sorts of valuable insights that senior leaders need in order to shape the direct of the Armed Forces for the future.

Finally, we had outbriefs from the other sessions, closing remarks and a quick hotwash.

In conclusion I would say this was a truly excellent Connections Conference. My disappointment with multiple sessions running in parallel (meaning I missed out on a couple of things I wish I had experienced) was offset by the depth of the sessions,

The presenters gave the impression of being very open and candid – as if they were among friends who were interested in means and methods, rather than formally trying to impress anyone. This made them more accessible and the presenters approachable. I firmly believe that this made a significant contribution to the value of the event.

In addition, the administration for the week was simply excellent. The venue was ideal and the US Army War College were wonderful and approachable hosts. The catering arrangements were outstanding and something, as one of the organising team from Connections UK, I looked on with jealousy as it is not something we could hope to compete with in central London.

In short – something of a triumph – and a note of respect to Matt Caffrey, Tim Wilkie, the US Army War College and the rest of the team.

Tom Mouat

Connections NL 2019

Connections Netherlands 2019 will be held on 28 October 2019, in the Brasserskade MOD Complex (CBK),  Brasserskade 227A/B, 2497 NX Den Haag.

Connections NL 2019

Full details can be found at https://www.connections-netherlands.nl.

Duffel Blog: Major awarded Bronze Star for ‘uncommon valor during wargame’

From the digital pages of one of our favourite sites, Duffel Blog:

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JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. – Gen. John “Mike” Murray pinned the Bronze Star Medal with “snake eyes” device on Major Dennis Klinefelter today for conspicuous gallantry in the face of overwhelming statistical odds during a recent tabletop wargame. Witnesses say Klinefelter, a strategist at the Army Futures Command, displayed uncommon valor as the U.S. ground force commander during the wargame against a near-peer adversary.

“His luck was uncanny,” said Lt. Col. Mike Shephard. “A whole division was surrounded and one turn away from total destruction when Klinefelter swept back his cape and charged toward the table with his ten-sided die. He rolled a one, ten times in a row, destroying all adjacent enemies. Those are one-in-10-billion odds.”

Not everyone who attended the wargame was a fan of Klinefelter’s actions. Maj. Dick Matthews, an intelligence officer and the overall “red” forces commander, was skeptical of Klinefelter’s luck and claims about Futures Command’s classified capabilities.

“Everything this guy did was unrealistic. Whenever his forces would get in trouble, he would mention some ‘multidomain’ capability that we couldn’t verify,” Matthews said while making air quotes. “And I don’t know if you have seen many of our generals nowadays, but they don’t tolerate that level of risk too well. Also, I’m pretty sure he brought his own dice which is both suspicious and really just kind of sad. At least this wargame will only be used to make budgetary decisions and to inform future war plans.”

Klinefelter could not be reached for comment. A public affairs spokesman said he was conducting “research” at a “Magic, the Gathering” coven at a nearby comic book store.

Recent simulation and gaming publications, 8 September 2019

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PAXsims is pleased to present a selection of recently-published items on simulation and serious gaming. Some of these may not address peacebuilding, conflict, 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.


John Langreck et al, “Modeling and simulation of future capabilities with an automated computer-aided wargame,” Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation: Applications, Methodology, Technology, online first 3 September 2019.

This article explores the development and application of an automated computer-aided wargame to establish high-level capability requirements and concepts of operations for future Navy unmanned aerial vehicles and unmanned underwater vehicles. The Joint Theater Level Simulation-Global Operations serves as the modeling environment, in which a computer-aided exercise models the impact of future intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets. Automating wargame simulations permits the replication of a large-scale exercise without the continued investment of support personnel and operating units. The environment enables experimentation that provides force planners with pertinent metrics to inform decision-making.


K. Scott et al, “The Persuasion Game: Serious Gaming Information Warfare and Influence,” Journal of Information Warfare, forthcoming 2019.

In an age of hybrid, asymmetric, and non-linear conflict, the role of Information Operations has become ever more important. This paper presents a research project examining ways of better enabling stakeholders to respond to the increasing use of influence in warfare, hybrid conflict, competition, and the realms of hard and soft politics. The project consisted of an international cross-sector research group drawing on military, government, academic, and industry expertise to understand the best way to wargame influence. The use of wargaming as a training/research tool is familiar in military and civil contexts; the project discussed presents a truly innovative approach to influence studies, and shows the benefits of an interdisciplinary, cross-domain research team.


Tongfei Shang,Tianqi Wang, and Jianfeng Ma, “Firepower Distribution Method in Wargame System Based on Machine Learning and Wavelet Analysis,” Journal of Physics: Conference Series (2019).

It is the key to the success or failure of military operations to formulate practical and feasible operational plans quickly and in a timely manner. Aiming at the development and analysis of the auxiliary action plan of the computer chess system, the machine learning and wavelet analysis are used to analyze the research of the wargsme system from the planning and drafting process, which provides a reference for the fire distribution of the wargame system.


 

Tongfei Shang,Tianqi Wang, and Jianfeng Ma, “Research on Performance Evaluation of Wargame System Based on Deep Reinforcement Learning,” Journal of Physics: Conference Series (2019).

Deep reinforcement learning combines the advantages of deep learning and reinforcement learning to make end-to-end perception decisions in complex high-dimensional state action spaces. The paper proposes a deep reinforcement learning method for the deduction of the wargame system, which can better assist the combat commander in wartime decision- making. The simulation proves the effectiveness of the method.


 

Monika Magnusson, Geir Ove Venemyr, Peter Bellström, Bjørn Tallak Bakken, “Digitalizing Crisis Management Training,” ePart 2019 International Conference on Electronic Participation, online July 2019.

The ongoing digital transformation in government has enabled innovative changes in operational processes and service. However, while e-services and social media are widely adopted, earlier studies indicate that this transformation is still being awaited in other areas, such as crisis or disaster preparedness. Recent events such as the 2018 wildfires in several parts of Europe, as well as empirical research, highlight the need for more (systematic) training of local governments’ crisis management teams. Conventional training methods are time- and space-dependent and require long-term planning, making it complicated to increase the extent of training. In this interdisciplinary study, we report on the results from the Swedish-Norwegian CriseIT project that aimed to develop information systems (IS) for crisis management training. The purpose of the article is to describe information systems designed to support local governments’ crisis management training and to discuss how these artefacts could improve crisis management training practices.


Karen Louise Blackmore, Evan William Henry Allitt, “Building and sustaining the defense simulation training workforce,” Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation: Applications, Methodology, Technology (online first, 19 August 2019).

The delivery of simulation training capability across the Australian Defence Force (ADF) requires a highly skilled workforce. Evolving training requirements, enabled by advances in computing power, network systems, display and peripheral technologies, and software environments, place increasing demands on the size of the workforce and the technical skills they are required to possess. In this research, we analyze existing simulation role frameworks and the various position descriptions and qualification requirements associated with these roles. To further explore the unique skillsets that translate to success in simulation roles, we also conduct a case study of a large external contract simulation workforce supplier, Cubic Defence Australia. Our findings highlight the complexity of the defense simulation workforce, including the lack of standardized position descriptions, competency frameworks, education and training pathways, and career progression options. Further complicating this is the importance of prior ADF service experience to the delivery of simulation systems that meet active training requirements, and the relationship between this service experience and career progression. From this analysis, recommendations for addressing the issues are made, including a call for a targeted and deliberate, multi-industry federal response to broaden the pool of candidates looking for careers in simulation.


Dan Wang, Shi Cao, Xingguo Liu, Tang Tang, Haixiao Liu, Linghua Ran, Xiai Wang, Jianwei Niu, “The virtual infantry soldier: integrating physical and cognitive digital human simulation in a street battle scenario,” Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation: Applications, Methodology, Technology (online first, 21 August 2019).

Simulation has become a powerful method for military research and combat training due to its intuitive visualization, repeatability, and security in contrast to real-world training. Previous studies often divided cognitive and physical factors into isolated models using separated platforms. Ideally, both cognitive and physical aspects of a virtual soldier should be modeled on the same platform. We demonstrated an integrated modeling that combines cognitive models with physical human models. A simple task was used, requiring the virtual soldier to navigate in a virtual city, avoid enemies, and reach the destination asap. The Queueing Network-Adaptive Control of Thought Rational cognitive model helps the virtual soldier make choices after encountering enemies. Based on the information collected, the soldier will choose different strategies. Two general-purpose methods from the cognitive modeling and digital human modeling were combined. The results were able to capture the behavioral states as planned and visualize the movement of the virtual soldier, who was able to complete the task as expected. The results demonstrated the feasibility of integrated models combining cognitive and physical aspects of human performance in the application of virtual soldiers. Future studies could further compare the results of model output with human empirical data to validate the modeling capabilities.


Clément Judek, Frédéric Verhaegen, Abla-Mimi Edjossan-Sossou, Thierry Verdel, Simulation-based training for improving managers’ awareness to a crisis: An empirical study to attest the capability of the iCrisis simulation approach to generate accurate crisis situations,” IDRiM Journal, 9, 1 (2019).

Crisis management concerns have increased in recent years, but it is difficult to gain experience with it except by directly experiencing a crisis situation. Crisis simulations aim to offer this experience. iCrisis is a crisis situation simulation approach that operates on the assumption that it accurately simulates crises. However, no methodology exists that can validate this assumption. The aim of this paper is to determine whether iCrisis simulations can recreate crisis characteristics. We first make a literature review to define the concept of crisis; we propose a list of characteristics separated into two categories: the characteristics of a crisis situation and those of the reaction that it raises among the managers coping with it. Second, we present the iCrisis approach, its consideration of the crisis characteristics and how to control their generation during the simulation. Although the assessment of crisis charac-teristics is subjective, it is nevertheless relevant to use participants’ feelings at the end of a simulation to study these characteristics. Eventually, our observations highlight that the crisis situation characteristics can be observed and perceived by the participants during the simulation.


Sarah HarmonRemington MaxwellArnav Jhala, “Operationalizing conflict strategies in a board game,” Proceedings of the 14th International Conference on the Foundations of Digital Games (2019).

The aim of conflict resolution education is to impart essential strategies and skills for resolving conflicts effectively. While these are important life skills, conflict resolution can be difficult to teach because it requires individuals to interact with others, explore new strategies, and receive feedback within a natural social context in order for strong connections to be made. As board games often involve co-located multiplayer interaction and can be effective tools for young learners, we explore the possibility of incorporating learning about conflict resolution into a tabletop game. We describe the process of designing an educational board game – StarStruck – that fosters discussions about conflict management via operationalization of conflict strategies drawn from an instrument founded in social psychology theory. Through in- and out-of-board interactions, StarStruck is designed to provide players with affordances to explore different resolution strategies within their natural social environment. We present examples from initial playtesting sessions to consider the expressive range of conflict scenarios generated by playing the game. This work serves as a preliminary illustration of how to map the vocabulary of conflict resolution to game mechanics, dynamics, and aesthetics so that players can naturally engage with and discuss conflict interactions.


 

Bruce Edmonds, “Some Philosophical Viewpoints on Social Simulation,” Review of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation, July 2019.

How one thinks about knowledge can have a significant impact on how one develops models as well as how one might judge a good model.

Recent simulation and gaming publications, 22 August 2019

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PAXsims is pleased to present a selection of recently-published items on simulation and serious gaming. Some of these may not address peacebuilding, conflict, 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 they appear in.


Victor Asal, Justin Conrad, and Steve Sin, “Back to the future: teaching about the end of the world,” European Political Science (online first, 2019).

The paper examines the challenges of teaching about the impact of nuclear weapons on international relations to students who were born after the Cold War and suggests a variety of pedagogical approaches for helping them understand this impact including readings, media, and simulations. We first discuss the value of a multi-methods approach to teaching about nuclear weapons and then discuss resources for these different approaches. For readings, we identify key writing framed as debates that have worked with undergraduates like Waltz and Sagan as well as key articles and literature reviews and historical literature about the actual use of nuclear weapons during World War II. We then discuss different multimedia such as movies and music. Finally, we discuss in class simulations with a focus on Nuclear Diplomacy, providing some examples of student reaction to playing these simulations.


 

Mauricio Meschoulam, Andrea Muhech, Tania Naanous, Sofía Quintanilla, Renata Aguilar, Jorge Ochoa, Cristobal Rodas, “The Complexity of Multilateral Negotiations: Problem or Opportunity? A Qualitative Study of Five Simulations with Mexican Students,” International Studies Perspectives, Volume 20, Issue 3, August 2019.

Education in International Relations requires continual evolution. One approach is the use of negotiation simulations for complex issues. Despite the extensive literature on the subject, there is a lack of qualitative research on this approach, particularly in Latin America and Mexico. This paper presents the findings of a qualitative research on five simulations with Mexican students. The five exercises were characterized by the application of elements that are not usually included in traditional simulations, such as a multiweek phase of prior negotiations, the use of Twitter, the introduction of nonstate actors, a gala dinner, and a continuous feed of real world news. We investigated 118 participants through 30 in depth interviews analyzed with NVivo, a systematized analysis of 118 reports, documents and tweets, and a pre-post questionnaire applied to the fifth group. The results in the five simulations were highly positive. The students reported a greater awareness of the complexity of international negotiations. Such awareness can present both a risk and an opportunity: a risk because those circumstances caused discouragement and frustration in many participants, and an opportunity because those same circumstances, properly channeled, triggered parallel skills, and creative thinking. Therefore, the role of the facilitation team was fundamental.


 

LtCol Jim Sinclair, “The Evolution of Australian Army Training Adversaries, 1948-2018),” Australian Army Journal 15, 1 (Autumn 2019). (pdf)

One of the essential requirements for Army training is the creation of
a contemporary and relevant training adversary which allows tactics, techniques and procedures to be tested and weapons and equipment
to be evaluated. This is an important part of Army’s value proposition to government that it can provide directed capability. In most cases, the training adversaries developed by the Australian Army in the past have represented opponents the Army was actually fighting or generic opponents it was unlikely to fight. This led the Australian Army to train for operations against an adversary it was unlikely to fight rather than preparing for probable future conflict.

In 2015, Army adopted the United States (US) Army Decisive Action Training Environment (DATE). DATE provides a sophisticated operating environment and adversary construct which is constantly updated to reflect current real-world operations. The adoption of DATE will transform Australian Army training by providing a contemporary, reality-based training adversary, allowing Army to train for contemporary operations and conduct mission rehearsal exercises against a contemporary adversary for the first time.


 

Walter W. Kulzy III, “(Design) Thinking Through Strategic-Level Wargames for Innovative Solutions,” Phalanx, 52, 2 (June 2019).

…Using design thinking as a process to create prototype environments within a wargame is an effective approach. Decision makers are exposed to these prototypes and challenges to comprehend systematic relationships of actors and the secondary and tertiary effects of their decisions. By iterating through this environment, deeper understandings lead to new and useful strategies.


Edward Castronova, “American Abyss: Simulating a Modern American Civil War,” Journal of Games, Self, & Society 1 (2019).

In recent years, speculation has arisen in the United States about the possibility of a civil war. Here I introduce a paper simulation of such a war using state-of-the-art lessons about modern civil war that have been developed within the diplomatic/military/intelligence conflict simulation community. According to those lessons, counter-insurgency (COIN) operations are a beastly mess for everyone involved. The simulation allows players to see why: In a modern intra-state conflict, there are many actors at play, each with their own access to the critical resources of media, money, and arms. These actors all have asymmetric aims, which lead to constantly shifting loyalties. The result is a conflict that is unlikely to end until all of the players are completely exhausted. I developed the simulation described in this paper as a warning to those who want to take up arms: Do not.

 


9789463728010_prom.jpgHolly Faith Nelson and James William Daems (eds), Games and War in Early Modern English Literature: From Shakespeare to Swift  (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2019).

This pioneering collection of nine original essays carves out a new conceptual path in the field by theorizing the ways in which the language of games and warfare inform and illuminate each other in the early modern cultural imagination. They consider how warfare and games are mapped onto each other in aesthetically and ideologically significant ways in the early modern plays, poetry or prose of William Shakespeare, Thomas Morton, John Milton, Margaret Cavendish, Aphra Behn, and Jonathan Swift, among others. Contributors interpret the terms ‘war games’ or ‘games of war’ broadly, freeing them to uncover the more complex and abstract interplay of war and games in the early modern mind, taking readers from the cockpits and clowns of Shakespearean drama, through the intriguing manuals of cryptographers and the ingenious literary wargames of Restoration women authors, to the witty but rancorous paper wars of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.


Amanda Jaber, “Evaluating the Team Resilience Assessment Method for Simulation (TRAMS),” MSc thesis, Department of Computer Science, Linköping university, Spring 2019.

The Team Resilience Assessment Method for Simulation (TRAMS) is an instrument that consist of several measurements, such as team-member exchange, workload, the TRAMS observation protocol etc. This thesis researches the observation protocol. The TRAMS protocol is an assessment method for resilience in simulation games. The aim of this protocol is to support the identification of resilience strategies used and developed by the participants in a simulation game. It is a challenge to assess resilience in teams and that is why the TRAMS protocol has been developed. The scenario of the simulation games is a disruption for 10 days in the card payment system. During the simulation games, the participants work in teams and have to try to cope with the disruption in the card payment system. During the course of this study, 14 simulation games have been conducted with seven different teams. Each of the simulation games has been executed during one whole day, and the participating teams have in total played two games each. During every simulation game there were three observers equipped with the TRAMS protocol. To interpret the data collected with the TRAMS protocol, two methods have been used: transcription and thematic analysis. As a result, guidelines and design changes was formed. In addition, results showed that the distribution and frequency of observations of resilience strategies made were similar, that the observations noted by the observers were similar, and lastly eight themes from the data collection could be extracted:Coordinate and collaborate, Payment options, Cash circulation, Safety, Fuel and transportation, Inform, communicate and the media, Hoarding and rationing, Vulnerable groups. In conclusion, the TRAMS protocol is still under development and 15 more simulation games are planned to be conducted within the ongoing CCRAAAFFTING project. However, the protocol has been applied in this study ́s 14 simulation games so far, and the similarities in how the observers filled in the protocol and how similar the observations were, indicate that it hopefully can develop into a recognized research tool in the future.


 

The Beaverton on board gaming

Today in The Beaverton is a report on a revolutionary new indie board game that’s even more fun to set up than it is to play.

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(Yes, this is satire)

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 20 August 2019

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

Aaron David and Brian Train suggested material for this most recent edition.

PAXsims

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At Open Democracy, Luke Cooper reports “We wargamed the last days of Brexit. Here’s what we found out.

A group of us recently participated in a simulation game to model the future of the Brexit process. By assuming different roles amongst the forces in conflict over the future of the United Kingdom, we hoped to gain a greater understanding of the process and what might come next. We solicited the help of Richard Barbrook, an academic at Westminster University, and director of Digital Liberties, a UK-based cooperative that has pioneered the use of participatory simulations to anticipate political scenarios. His book, Class Wargames, applies the ideas of the French situationist, Guy Debord, who advocated the use of strategy games as performative, even theatrical, exercises to understand one’s political opponents and their strategic thinking. Barbrook designed the game, which he called, Meaningful Votes: The Brexit Simulation.

Collaborating on this initiative with the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen (IWM) and the ERSTE Foundation in Vienna we assembled a group of participants in Vienna comprised of civil society, journalists, academics and intellectuals.They were a mixture of nationalities, from Austria, the Balkans, the United States and Britain, and held a plurality of political views from left to right. For mainland European participants the game provided an opportunity to empirically rationalise a crisis that many had found inexplicable; for example, the refusal hitherto of the British parties to find a compromise on Brexit in Parliament is highly alien to those used to the political systems with a culture of building consensus (often with proportional representation), that exist in Germany, the Netherlands and Austria. Each participant took on the role of a faction within Parliament with the game beginning after the defeat of the heavy defeat of the First Meaningful Vote on 15 January 2019.

PAXsims

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At War on the Rocks, Jared Samuelson argues that NATO navies need to do better and more realistic wargaming.

NATO’s navies should draw a lesson from history and begin wargaming for a potential future European conflict now. Fortunately, NATO can use an existing foundation to do exactly this with “War at Sea,” a game the U.S. Naval War College’s Joint Military Operations department originally developed in 2017 and has continuously revised since. So, what is the problem with existing NATO naval wargaming? It is high time to tackle this question. In answering it, I draw on my own experience with “War at Sea” — in my capacity as the U.S. Navy liaison officer at the German Armed Forces Staff College — to explain how this game can help plug an important gap in the alliance’s training efforts. Given the minimal additional investment in both time and money required, this wargame offers a golden opportunity for NATO to begin the learning process to succeed in a future conflict.

PAXsims

The UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) has contracted the commercial digital wargame designer Slitherine to develop and adapt hobby games for serious wargaming purposes.

You’ll find the press statement on the project here.

PAXsims

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The US Air Force wants wargames that would allow it to explore the use and implications of directed energy weapons, including lasers and high powered electro-magnetics. According to NextGov:

The Air Force Research Lab issued a request for information Friday seeking a vendor that can provide wargame modeling and simulations that include how energy weapons are being used today and how they will be used in the near future.

“The purpose of these [military utility] studies is to determine if and how well AFRL/RD and industry technologies can help address warfighter needs and gaps including complementing current fielded technologies and those under development by others,” the notice states.

PAXsims

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Registration for the October MORS Cyberspace Wargaming & Analytics workshop is now open.

PAXsims

James Vaughan (CEO & Founder, Ndemic Creations) discusses how “0 to 120 Million: Infecting the World with Games that Make You Think,” in his keynote address at the recent Games4Change Festival.

Our PAXsims review of one of their games, Rebel Inc, can be found here.

PAXsims

The folks at the TESA Collective (designers of Rise Up!) have announced a new board game project: Strike! The Game of Worker Rebellion.

HappyCorp, the richest company in the world, has just unleashed its most evil plan yet: turning Mercury City into an entirely corporate-run city. From the schools to the sidewalks, everything will be owned and run by HappyCorp, and every resident will become a HappyCorp employee. There will be no more minimum wage, no more public services, and no more unions. HappyCorp has already begun unleashing its Smile Drones to convert the city’s infrastructure, crush protests, and ensure every resident watches its Commercial Breaks.

Players take on the role of the Strike Council to lead a city-wide strike of workers against HappyCorp’s take over, while also fighting for better livelihoods for all. Players will use energy tokens to grow their ranks, mobilize their workers, and complete strike cards. As the Strike Council scores victories for workers around the city, they will gain the support of more allies, from the dockworkers to the teachers, and build new bases of support from the manufacturing district to the university.

So do you have what it takes to lead the worker rebellion to defeat HappyCorp? Or will you soon be an employee of HappyCity?

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PAXsims

Prolific wargame designer Brian Train was recently interviewed by Harold Buchanan for his Harold on Games podcast.

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It includes the story of how Brian and I met, and a little about We Are Coming, Nineveh! (28:22), which should be available for preorder from Nuts! Publishing later this year.

PAXsims

On the subject of Canadians, the Communications Security Establishment (CSE)—Canada’s super-secret signals intelligence agency—have been making use of an “Ottawa-based escape room company to help grow its recruitment levels and raise its profile.” According to the CBC:

Starting in September, wannabe code breakers (and average revellers looking for a night out) can take a crack at solving cyberattack scenarios at the Escape Manor in the city’s Hintonburg neighbourhood.

The goal, said CSE spokesperson Ryan Foreman, is to attract new recruits to help the agency collect foreign intelligence and thwart cyberattacks.

“The idea behind our partnership is to bolster our recruiting efforts and build awareness of who we are and what we do,” he said in an email to CBC News.

“This is an ideal venue for us to reach people with these interests who may not be aware of CSE or have ever considered career opportunities in Canada’s security and intelligence community.”

The Recruit will be a narrative game involving a cyberattack by the fictional adversary known as The Syndicate.

There is no word yet on whether the adventure will include such hyper-realistic Canadian intelligence community challenges as trying to get paid properly on the federal government’s Phoenix payroll system or dealing with apparently endless access to information (ATIP) requests.

PAXsims

In an interview with Game Informer, the designers of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare argue the game isn’t “political.”

As a number of commentators have noted, theirs seems to be  a very narrow definition of politics.

PAXsims

Seven Board Games designed for use in education have been cited for excellence in the 2019 Serious Play Award Competition. You can find out about them at the (for-profit) Serious Play conferences website.

PAXsims

LECMgt-Logo-with-text.pngThe LECMgt blog contains a short interview with your very own PAXsims editor, on the subject of PAXsims itself.

You’ll find it here.

PAXsims

On a final note, with the ongoing US debate over mass shooting once again in the news in recent weeks, we thought we would post this informative infographic from Vox.

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Recent simulation and gaming articles, 15 August 2019

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PAXsims is pleased to present a selection of recently-published articles on simulation and serious gaming. We will start doing this regularly, in addition to our periodic “simulation and gaming miscellany” updates. Some of these may not address peacebuilding, conflict, 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.


McDarby G, Reynolds L, Zibwowa Z, et al, “The global pool of simulation exercise materials in health emergency preparedness and response: a scoping review with a health system perspective.” 

Simulation Exercises (SimEx) are an established tool in defence and allied security sectors, applied extensively in health security initiatives under national or international legislative requirements, particularly the International Health Regulations (2005). There is, however, a paucity of information on SimEx application to test the functionality of health systems alongside emergency preparedness, response and recovery. Given the important implications health services resilience has for the protection and improvement of human life, this scoping review was undertaken to determine how the publicly available body of existing global SimEx materials considers health systems, together with health security functions in the event of disruptive emergencies.

The global review identified 668 articles from literature and 73 products from institutional sources. Relevant screening identified 51 materials suitable to examine from a health system lens using the six health system building blocks as per the WHO Health System Framework. Eight materials were identified for further examination of their ability to test health system functionality from a resilience perspective.

SimEx are an effective approach used extensively within health security and emergency response sectors but is not yet adequately used to test health system resilience. Currently available SimEx materials lack an integrated health system perspective and have a limited focus on the quality of services delivered within the context of response to a public health emergency. The materials do not focus on the ability of systems to effectively maintain core services during response.

Without adjustment of the scope and focus, currently available SimEx materials do not have the capacity to test health systems to support the development of resilient health systems. Dedicated SimEx materials are urgently needed to fill this gap and harness their potential as an operational tool to contribute to improvements in health systems. They can act as effective global goods to allow testing of different functional aspects of health systems and service delivery alongside emergency preparedness and response.

The work was conducted within the scope of the Tackling Deadly Diseases in Africa Programme, funded by the UK Department for International Development, which seeks to strengthen collaboration between the health system and health security clusters to promote health security and build resilient health systems.


 

Virginia C. Muckler, Christine Thomas, “Exploring Suspension of Disbelief Among Graduate and Undergraduate Nursing Students,” Clinical Simulation in Nursing 35 (2019).

Background

The nature and process of suspending disbelief is complex, subjective, and has not been well researched in clinical simulation.

Methods

A descriptive phenomenological approach with semistructured interviews explored student experiences of suspending disbelief during simulation-based learning.

Results

Among the 18 (69%) graduate students and 8 (31%) undergraduate students, three themes emerged from participant narratives including (1) frame of mind, (2) environment, and (3) tempo. Subthemes of frame of mind included cognitive focus, apprehension, and confidence.

Conclusion

Understanding nursing students’ lived experiences of suspending disbelief can enhance the educator’s ability to design and facilitate effective simulation, student development, and suspension of disbelief.

Highlights

  • Suspension of disbelief is complex, subjective, and underresearched.
  • Frame of mind or mindset influences suspension of disbelief.
  • Cognitive focus, apprehension, and confidence affect suspension of disbelief.
  • Functional equipment enhances the environment and suspension of disbelief.
  • Scenario progression without interruption promotes suspension of disbelief.

 

Louis P. Halamek, Robert Cady, and Michael Sterling, “Using briefing, simulation and debriefing to improve human and system performance,” Seminars in Perinatology (prepublication 2019).

Safety, effectiveness and efficiency are keys to performance in all high-risk industries; healthcare is no exception, and neonatal-perinatal medicine is one of the highest risk subspecialties within healthcare. Briefing, simulation and debriefing are methods used by professionals in high-risk industries to reduce the overall risk to life and enhance the safety of the human beings involved in receiving and delivering the services provided by those industries. Although relatively new to neonatal-perinatal medicine, briefing, simulation and debriefing are being practiced with increasing frequency and have become embedded in training exercises such as the Neonatal Resuscitation Program (NRP) of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). This chapter will define these terms and offer examples as to how they are used in high-risk activities including neonatal-perinatal medicine.


 

Sundeep Kaur Varaich, “Effectiveness of Simulation in Addressing Stigma,” PhD dissrtation, University of Northern Colorado, May 2019.

Mental health stigma hinders quality nursing care. The aim of this quasi- experimental study was to test if simulation was effective for addressing stigma in nursing education and evaluating student attitudes towards psychiatric conditions. A sample of eight-nine undergraduate nursing students were assigned to a control or treatment group and participated in either a chronic health challenge scenario or a mental health scenario to test the effectiveness of using a mental health simulation to address stigmatizing attitudes. Day’s Mental Illness Stigma Scale was used as the data collection tool for the post-test to measure students’ stigmatizing perceptions in relation to their assigned scenario. This scale was completed by the students immediately after the simulation and approximately three months after participating in the simulation scenario to evaluate change in perceptions. Analysis of mean scores revealed that students participating in the mental health scenario demonstrated more stigmatizing attitudes overall except related to the subscale for anxiety toward mental illness, for which the control group showed more stigmatizing attitudes. These findings indicate a need for further research into the use of simulation as an educational approach and the possibility of modifying this approach for effectively addressing mental health stigma.

(Emphasis added–this research shows a simulation experience potentially causing undesirable learning outcomes.)

Review: Building Blocks of Tabletop Game Design

BBTGDcover.jpgGeoffrey Engelstein and Isaac Shalev, Building Blocks of Tabletop Game Design (Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2020). 491pp. USD$63.96 paperback.

 

Engelstein and Isaac Shalev have put together what is, in essence, a very useful encyclopedia of the main mechanisms in tabletop game design. The volume outlines no fewer than 194 different approaches, broken down into thirteen different categories:

  1. Game structures
  2. Turn order and structure terminology
  3. Actions
  4. Resolution
  5. Game end and victory
  6. Uncertainty
  7. Economics
  8. Auctions
  9. Worker Placement
  10. Movement
  11. Area Control
  12. Set collection
  13. Card mechanisms

For each they provide a description and graphic representation of the mechanism and a summary of its strengths, weakness, and game consequences. They also discuss  some representative games in which the mechanism is used. Entries are typically 2-3 pages long each, as shown below.

The descriptions are clear and readily comprehensible, even for gaming neophytes, while the discussions offer insight that more experienced game designers will also find useful.

Were this excellent volume a little cheaper I would certainly use it as a supplementary text for my conflict simulation design course at McGill University. I will, however, certainly be using it as a course resource. It is also available as a much cheaper e-book rental format.

Save the date: McGill megagame 2020

The 5th annual McGill megagame will be held at McGill University, Montréal on Sunday, 16 February 2020.

The 2020 McGill megagame will be ATLANTIC RIM.

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A mysterious meteor shower has struck the Atlantic coast of North America. Many coastal communities, including parts of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, have been devastated by the resulting tsunami.

Police, fire departments, medical services, municipal workers, Canadian Armed Forces personnel, and the Coast Guard are mobilizing to address the emergency. Roads are damaged. The electrical grid has been shattered. Hospitals are overwhelmed. Survivors are fleeing to safety.

Can local, provincial, and federal officials coordinate an effective response?

Will Atlantic Canada rise to the challenge? And are they prepared for what might now be lurking in the Grand Banks?

Registration information will be posted to PAXsims in November/December.

Call for papers: CONNECTIONS NORTH 2020 wargaming conference

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The CONNECTIONS NORTH 2020 professional wargaming conference will be held at McGill University, Montreal on Saturday, 15 February 2020.

CONNECTIONS NORTH is a one-day conference devoted to conflict simulation. It is intended for national security professionals, researchers, educators, game designers, university students, and others interested in the field of wargaming and other serious games.

Registration details will be posted to PAXsims in December. In the meantime, we welcome paper and panel proposals. These should be sent to Rex Brynen (rex.brynen@mcgill.ca).

Details of previous conferences (and the CONNECTIONS NORTH digital community) can be found here.

As is tradition, the annual McGill megagame—a separate and rather less serious event—will be held on the following day.

Armchair Dragoons on the “culture wars”

DragoonsLogoHEADER-1A special issue of Armchair Dragoons’ Mentioned in Dispatches podcast features Brant Guillory, Matt Kirschenbaum, and myself discussing recent controversies on representation and diversity in the wargaming hobby.

For some background, see these previous reports at PAXsims:

There is also a longer list of articles linked at Armchair Dragoons.

And before anyone comments, yes we were all painfully aware of the irony of three middle-aged white guys discussing diversity in the hobby—sadly, many of the other gamers Brant reached out were unavailable. If you’ve got something you would like to contribute to the debate (especially if you’re a female, LGBTQ, or other minority wargamer) please drop us a line—PAXsims is always looking for material on this and other topics.

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Picture credit: Origin.

13th annual NATO Operations Research & Analysis Conference

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NATO Headquarters Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (ACT) and the Science and Technology Organization (STO) will be holding the 13th annual NATO Operations Research and Analysis (OR&A) Conference in Ottawa, Canada on 7 to 9 October 2019.

The 2019 theme is Challenges for NATO OR&A in a Changing Global Security Environment. The conference will kick off with a number of keynote addresses and continue in five streams:

  1. Strategic Decision Making
  2. Wargaming
  3. Methodology
  4. Data Driven Analysis
  5. Analysis in Operations

This is a professional conference, is open to participants with expertise in military operations research and professional wargaming/serious games. On Monday and Tuesday there are a series of wargaming panels. On Wednesday there are two optional full-day workshops: one involves participation in a hybrid, multi-domain wargame and the other (led by yours truly) explores wargaming best practices.

Further details can be found here. Registration is via the NATO STO events website. The conference will be conducted at an unclassified level.

Lacey: Teaching operational maneuver

The following piece has been contributed by Dr. James Lacey, Professor of Strategic Studies at the Marine Corps War College and author of the recently-released The Washington War: FDR’s Inner Circle and the Politics of Power That Won World War II.


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Picture credit: War on the Rocks

TEACHING OPERATIONAL MANEUVER

For well over five decades the U.S. Military has ruled the tactical battlefield. While much of this tactical superiority is explained by superior military technology, it mostly reflects the literally thousands of “set and reps” tactical leaders receive in training events, professional military educations system (PME), and actual combat. We have highly capable and rapidly adaptive tactical units because, to a degree unequaled in other militaries, U.S forces really do train as they fight. As such, the battlefield is a familiar place, and given virtually any situation, an American combat leader can instantly reach into his memory to retrieve a similar circumstance from training.

This capacity of “instantaneous pattern recognition” is what keeps leaders from freezing in combat. So, although every training or combat situation has its own unique elements, effective training almost always creates sufficient similarities for experienced leaders to draw upon a stored “mental template” to rapidly build, in their mind’s eye, an accurate picture of the fight, and to immediately start making decisions. It is during home station training, while at training centers, on deployments, and in classrooms that our tactical leaders get the “sets and reps” they require to “see” the battlefield and react rapidly and appropriately, while under the stress of combat.

Unfortunately, none, or precious little, of this level of preparation exists at the operational level and above. While we are fantastic at fighting battalions and regiments/BCTs, the skills necessary to fight a dozen or two dozen BCTs as a coherent whole in a swirling maneuver battlefield have atrophied. If Multi-Domain Battle is going to become a battlefield reality, we must once again teach senior leaders how to fight battles, campaigns, and wars above the BCT level. Further, rising senior leaders need to relearn the art of combining a series of battles into combinations of war-winning campaigns.

Some may argue that PME accomplishes this at the ILE level.  And admittedly, there are some small pockets where the rudiments of what is necessary are still being taught, but, for the most part, ILE (and related) institutions no longer teach operational maneuver.  Instead they teach the “process.” Told to get ‘Force A’ to ‘Objective X’, an ILE graduate can layout courses of action, and present a plan to move along ‘Axis Y or Z’ to arrive at the objective. They can also do much of the detailed staff planning necessary to make such a move possible. What they cannot tell you is whether “Objective X” was the right place to assault in the first place.

I first noted that our senior officers had no idea about how to ‘think about or conduct’ an operational battle while attending various Service wargames. For instance, in one major game the scenario called for US and NATO troops to retake the Baltics, currently occupied by Russian forces. The solution that a room full of field grade officers arrived at was to send the attacking force straight north from Poland. The predictable enemy response was to launch the 1stGuards Tank Army into the attacking force’s unprotected flanks and rear – obliterating the four NATO divisions.

This only confirms something that has disturbed me ever since I began employing wargames in War College classrooms. To help the students master the mechanics of these complex games I bring in local civilians with years of operational and strategic level wargaming experience… but no military experience. In every case, no matter the time-period, or the game level (strategic or operational), the war college students are consistently outclassed by civilian hobbyists – it is not even close. This holds true even after the students have played the game a few times and fully understand the game rules and mechanics.  Time and again, my students are out-thought by civilians with no military experience or education.

This does not mean that civilian wargamers would be effective on a real battlefield.  In truth, few of them could lead a platoon out of a paper bag and most of them would seize-up if confronted by a real combat situation.  Moreover, wargamers lack the experienced-based judgement that is a product of years of training and combat experience.  When one plays a wargame, every unit has a set of assigned numbers, which typically everyone knows at the start of the game. For instance, unit counters will typically have their strength, speed of movement, and other factors printed on them. So, when a friendly unit runs into an enemy unit one can quickly calculate relative strengths and with a glance at the game’s combat results table instantly know the probability of success of any engagement.  In real life things are never that easy.  A unit’s strength is always a judgement call that must be made by an experienced commander. Moreover, this judgement (a mental number) is constantly changing as the battlefield situation evolves.  For instance, a battalion commander might mentally consider his best company a “10” on a scale of 1 to 10.  But, maybe he will assign that same company a “6” after it has been in prolonged combat for 72-hours without a rest… and reduce it further to a “4” or lower if it has lost a few key leaders. If he manages to rotate the company out of the line for 48-hours rest he may, once again, elevate it to a “7”, and then make it an “8” based on getting some quality replacements. In combat commanders are continually assessing their units and judging their relative effectiveness; no one is giving them that number.  Moreover, the best commanders are doing the same thing when they judge the relative combat power of their battlefield opponents.

At the operational level of war, the capacity to make such judgements are the result of years (decades) of accumulated experience. This is why the judgement of wargamers cannot be applied in an actual combat environment. Still, wargames remain the only way to “simulate” war at the operational level and above, short of training maneuvers on a scale no one is willing to pay for. And despite the shortcomings of wargames and civilian wargamers as military leaders, a singular truth remains; at the strategic and operational level, civilian wargamers display a capacity for “instant pattern recognition” that very few field grade officers can match. In most cases, a civilian wargamer requires only a cursory glance at a map and a rudimentary understanding of the game mechanics and objectives to comprehend the entire situation and decide on a course of action. Similarly, I can set up actual operational or strategic situations from World War II (or any past war) on a map and the civilian wargamers will come up with a plan of action in a fraction of the time it takes most professional military officers.

The answer appears simple; our PME systems must wed its students’ undoubted tactical expertise, leadership abilities, and judgement to the “instant” operational and strategic “pattern recognition” that many civilian wargamers possess. Getting there, however, is not going to be easy, as it means undertaking a major curriculum upheaval within almost every PME institution at the ILE level and above.

For over a decade-and-a-half, field grade PME institutions have been focused on teaching leaders how to integrate an all of government approach to fighting COIN conflicts. Given the global situation – almost all of the nation’s landpower engaged in two COIN fights – this was undoubtedly the right thing to do. But, while we were fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the world refused to sit still. As we rise our sights above the COIN fight we find ourselves confronting two global military powers, each capable of meeting U.S. forces on the battlefield as peer competitors. It took nearly a decade to get the right people within PME to transform our institutions into COIN academies. Unfortunately, our potential peer-level opponents are unlikely to allow us that much time to realign curriculums back toward operational maneuver.

At this level of warfare civilian wargamers have a tremendous intellectual lead over most military professionals, as they typically have thousands more strategic and operational “reps and sets” than the average field grade officer. Our nation has been served well by company, battalion and brigade level leaders who, because of enduring thousands of “tactical reps”, have repeatedly proven themselves demonstrably superior to their battlefield opponents.  After two decades of training and combat experience we can be reasonably sure that a lieutenant-colonel confronted with almost any tactical situation (real or simulated) will think quickly, move rapidly, and act decisively; all because he has a stored “mental template” to work from. But, unless they are self-taught, military leaders are given few, if any, “reps and sets” at the operational level. Consequently, when confronted with an operational or strategic level problem, their capacity for rapid and decisive action vanishes.

The second great advantage civilian wargamers have over most military professionals is a deep grounding in history, particularly military history. That this advantage exists is somewhat surprising, as military officers are told from the start of their careers that they need to read widely and deeply into all aspects of military history. Unfortunately, disturbingly few bother to do so.

Almost every wargame hobbyist I have met is a walking encyclopedia of historical knowledge. Sit down to play one in a simulation of the Battle of Gettysburg and you will discover that they not only know the big events of the battle; most of them can also tell you what time and from what direction each of Hill’s and Ewell’s brigades arrived on the first day.  But their knowledge usually goes far deeper than such minutiae. Over numerous discussions, I have discovered that they are almost always well-read on the politics, diplomacy, and economics behind any strategic game or simulation. In fact, when it comes to discussing history the average wargamer of my experience can hold his own with any War College faculty member.

Consequently, when a wargame hobbyist examines a new operational or strategic situation he draws upon a huge reservoir of knowledge to contextualize and understand what he is looking at. In short, he has thousands of “mental templates” in his head that help him make sense of even the most complex situations. Moreover, they also have a very good idea of what others have done in similar situations – what worked and what failed.  On the other hand, the typical field grade officer, bereft of the opportunity to develop such “mental templates”, views every situation they are exposed to (and that is way too few) as something totally new… and every approach as novel.

As we begin to reform and realign PME our first question must be: how do we take tactically proficient proven leaders and turn them into – to use an old term – maneuverists? There really is only a single answer; it is the same one that that made them masters of the tactical battlefield. We must increase the number of operational and strategic “reps and sets” they are exposed too. This is the only way to instill in our future senior leaders the “instant pattern recognition” necessary to make them outstanding operational commanders and strategic thinkers.

There are, regrettably, no quick fixes for this problem, as there is no crash course that will give senior leaders the thousands of operational or strategic “reps” they require. Moreover, while most would agree that a leader’s progress toward higher levels of operational and strategic comprehension should start early in their careers, this has always proven a bridge too far. Besides, this is the time when young leaders must focus on the basics of the profession, learning how to lead, and becoming tactical masters.  We can, however, certainly do much better in placing more operational maneuver wargaming and simulations at the ILE level. And then using the war colleges to reinforce these initial “reps and sets”.

I am not advocating turning the “entire” curriculum over to wargaming/simulations and other forms of experiential learning, but they can and should become the “centerpiece” of operational level and strategic education. As Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Paul Selva have written: “Should we instead think about using wargames that explore joint multidimensional combat operations to pursue our JPME objectives? Building school curriculums around wargaming might help spark innovation and inculcate the entire Joint Force with a better appreciation and understanding of trans-regional, cross-domain, multidimensional combat.” Only by placing our future senior commanders within a series of operational and strategic situations can they begin building the “mental templates” and decision-making skills necessary for success on the maneuver battlefields of the 21stcentury. Time spent on often useless electives would be much better used running a series of operational and strategic exercises (or other experiential learning events) that will teach as well as challenge students at the higher levels of warfare.

The second part of the solution is to finally get serious about teaching military history to future strategic leaders. By this, I mean history writ large, in a program where military history is the focus, but also includes the political, economic, and diplomatic contexts in which conflicts are conducted.  It is no longer sufficient to create a booklist and hope officers read it (most do not). A professional reading program must be instituted and enforced (not talked about) at every level. At its best, such a program would eschew lists of required books, in favor of something akin to study guides. For instance, an officer desiring to develop a better understanding of the American Civil War, would be able to access a 2 or 3-page guide that lists a number of books he can choose from, depending on what his current emphasis of study is.

Where would I like us to get to? As a start, I would hope that every field grade officer would have the knowledge to reply to General Bernard Law Montgomery’s request for three courses of action to take Arnhem with: “Sir, should we not first consider taking Antwerp?

If you have no idea what the above analogy references, or you don’t know why “Antwerp” is the right answer then your study of military history is sadly deficient.  Get to work on that.

James Lacey
ME - 2

 

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