PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Review: The Pentagon’s Urban COIN Wargame (1966)

John Curry, ed., The Pentagon’s Urban COIN Wargame (1966) (History of Wargaming Project, 2018). 100pp. £12.95pb.

pentagonurbancoincover.gifIn this volume John Curry has republished the rules of URB-COIN, an urban counter-insurgency game designed by Abt Associates for the Advanced Research Projects Agency (US Department of Defense) in the mid-1960s—and a very quirky game it is too. Set in a generic city in a generic country, it combines find-the-secret-players mechanics (such as found in games like Werewolf or Secret Hitler) with the large-scale interaction of a megagame. Players represent government officials, police, and ordinary citizens (upper class bankers and lawyers; middle class managers and shopkeepers; and lower class clerks, waiters, utility workers, railway employees, and the unemployed). Some of the government employees and ordinary citizens are secret insurgents as well, while others are secret police agents. Each player has a certain amount of money and white (population) chips, and some players also have blue (police) chips or red (arms and bombs) chips. Play is continuous, with every 20 minutes representing a “day,”

URB-COIN was one of a series of POL-MIL wargames developed for ARPA at this time, including AGILE-COIN (a rural insurgency game) and POLITICA. These games had some value for training and encouraging critical reflection on issues of insurgency/counter-insurgency, but cannot really be thought of as sophisticated analytical tools, and never saw widespread use. In a January 1966 playtest of URB-COIN at the US Air Force Academy, 60% of participants rated it “better” than other training techniques, with the greatest value being the exploration “alternative tactical and strategic approaches.”

The Abt Associates report on URB-COIN can be found (for free) here, via the Defense Technical Information Center. The History of Wargaming Project publication is essentially a reprint of that same report, together with a foreword, a brief discussion of other counterinsurgency games, and a bibliography.

Connections UK approaches!

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The Connections UK professional wargaming conference at King’s College London is fast approaching on 4-6 September, and several of the PAXsims team will be there: myself and Tom Mouat, plus research associates Harrison Brewer, Juliette Le Ménahèze, and Kia Kouyoumjian. Be sure to say hello!

Among other things, I’ll be talking about cognitive challenges in wargame analysis, and Tom and I will be taking part in a panel session on game facilitation.

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As for games, Harrison and Juliette will be running demonstration games of We Are Coming, Nineveh!, a tactical/operational-level game of the Iraqi government campaign to liberate western Mosul from the forces of Daesh in February-July 2017. Tom will be demonstrating Section Commander, a small-unit role-playing game intended to explore tactics, techniques, procedures, and equipment selection.

Oh, and have you been dying to buy a copy of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game but didn’t want to pay postage to the UK? Email me before I leave, and I’ll put one (maximum) in my luggage for you.

Jane’s Intelligence Review on matrix gaming

The September issue of Jane’s Intelligence Review has an excellent article by Neil Ashdown assessing matrix games as an analytical tool.

Key points

  • Matrix games are comparatively simple wargames, emphasising creativity and original thought, which have been used by a range of government agencies and militaries.
  • These games are focused on the participants’ intentions, which makes them better suited for analysing political-military strategy and novel or obscure subjects, such as cyber security.
  • However, this technique is unsuitable for analysing granular tactical scenarios, and the games’ relatively low cost and complexity can reduce their attractiveness.

 

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I would like to thank Neil and JIR for making it available (pdf copy at the link above) to PAXsims readers. If you are interested in reading more about the technique, there are many matrix gaming articles available here at PAXsims, the History of Wargaming Project has just published the Matrix Game Handbook, and you can purchase the Matrix Game Construction Kit (MaGCK) User Guide as a downloadable pdf.

The STRIKE! Battlegroup Tactical Wargame

STRIKE is a wargame developed at the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory for the British Army, to enable them to examine novel tactical concepts to use with the UK’s new Strike brigade. The following piece was shared with PAXsims by STRIKE’s chief developer, Mike Young.


The British Army is being equipped with a new generation of fighting vehicles that will provide the core combat elements within the new Strike Brigades.  The vehicles are an 8 wheeled infantry transport platform known as the Mechanised Infantry Vehicle (“MIV”) and a family of vehicles based around the AJAX platform.  The British Army was keen to understand how the Strike Brigade would perform on the battlefield so commissioned a series of manual wargames to examine their operational effectiveness.  I facilitated at these wargames and produced the STRIKE! wargame as a result.

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STRIKE! is a detailed tactical level game, based around one inch square counters each representing a platoon of 3 or 4 vehicles. There are counters to represent all the fighting elements of the Strike Brigade as well as an Armoured Infantry Brigade on the Blue side, and a full mechanised brigade and an airborne battalion on the Red side.  The game also represents helicopter and engineering assets and, if required, has an alternative Red ORBAT with less sophisticated equipment.  Three large hex maps of different terrain types have been produced to go with the game along with a scenario booklet, enabling many different tactical situations to be examined.  The hexes on the map represent an area 500 metres across, and each game turn represents half an hour of real time.

The counters display a unit ID, movement, firepower and protection details.  A detailed set of rules is provided, although after a PowerPoint brief  the players were able play the game using a single A4 quick reference sheet to calculate combat results.

The reaction to the game was extremely positive and enthusiastic, with all six copies of the game being eagerly received by the customer.

As the customer said:

It is absolutely AWESOME. I am so pleased. They had it manufactured professionally and have written fantastically clear rules, crib cards, notes, ORBAT sheets etc. They have missed nothing. Thank you very much indeed for organising the project. This is going to be hugely helpful for the Brigade and I hope that we will be able to spread the word across the Armoured Infantry Brigades too.

Capt H J B Jordan LG | SO3 Experimentation | STRIKE Experimentation Group

We expect the British Army to make great use of this new analytical game that Dstl has developed, and look forward to designing and facilitating many more wargames with them in the future.

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Getting ready for the WATU wargame

The Western Approaches war museum (Liverpool) has announced it:

The components are being made:

And, if you can’t wait, you can always try out the BBC’s Western Approaches Tactical Unit online browser game (requires Flash) from a few years ago.

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

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

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

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

You’ll find the full article here.

h/t Nigel Jordan-Barber

DRDC: Investigating wargaming and capability based planning

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Back in January, Murray Dixson and Fred Ma at Defence Research and Development Canada published a valuable paper entitled An Investigation into Wargaming Methods to Enhance Capability Based Planning. This is a summary of a DRDC project in which “Several wargaming methods are investigated as possible ways to enhance the Capability Based Planning (CBP) process in the areas of capability requirements identification and force planning scenario validation”

The concept behind the methodology was to begin the exploration of wargaming methods with several game styles chosen based on the knowledge and experience of the SPORT [Strategic Planning Operational Research Team] staff, and in parallel, build familiarity over the period of the work with wargaming methods through literature reviews and exposure to the wargaming community. The relevant wargaming community exists primarily amongst the five eyes allies through forums such as (but not limited to) the “Connections” wargaming conferences and the Military Operations Research Society (MORS) workshops and conferences [16][17].

The knowledge gained from the literature and the wargaming community influenced possible adjustments to the methods chosen as the explorations proceeded. There was an implicit feedback loop in place where the knowledge and experience gained from each game iteration was used to decide on the next steps of the testing which involved either running more iterations of the game or choosing another game type.

Ideally, the methodology was intended to include these elements:

  1. Try out several game styles to see if any had any particular advantages for CBP in terms of the issues observed and discussed in the previous section
  2. Run several iterations of each game style to generate some (limited) statistics from which informative or indicative trends might emerge
  3. Run multiple game iterations with different groups of players to try and obtain a broader range of inputs and experiences with playing the games
  4. Compare the wargame outputs to those from the JCPTs [Joint Capability Planning Team] and draw conclusions about whether the wargaming methods tested showed any potential benefit for addressing the issues discussed earlier with CBP

The games used in the study included ISIS Crisis and several other matrix games; the Rapid Campaign Assessment Toolset (RCAT, developed by the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory and Cranfield University); and PAXsims’ very own AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game. It should be noted, of course, that  these were not necessarily designed to support Capability Based Planning—rather, DRDC was playtesting them for more basic insight as to whether a particular sort of game approach might contribute to capability requirements identification and force planning scenario validation.

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The study’s conclusions were as follows:

In this work, we explored several wargaming techniques as a way to mitigate some of the concerns and observations originating from previous cycles of CBP. There was concern that the capability analyses in Phase 2 could become too narrowly focussed and that the planning scenarios may not be adequately validated before the JCPT capability analysis. The properties of table top wargames lend themselves to addressing problems like this because they immerse players in the scenario in a way not possible by simply reading a scenario narrative from a document. The resulting experiential learning provides a richer experience for the player, which translates into a more holistically encompassing view and understanding of the key elements of the scenario.

We therefore investigated the potential of tabletop wargames to enhance the identification of capabilities under CBP and to act as a scenario validation mechanism. We developed a hypothesis that wargaming would enhance capability identification through the broader understanding of the scenario and also through a better understanding of the driving factors therein.

The number of game styles and trials was limited, as was the range of backgrounds of the players that were able to participate. Nonetheless, three styles of game (a traditional tabletop game (RCAT), matrix games and a commercial game) were examined, and nine trials spread across them were run.

From the limited data, we saw clear indications that playing the games would be an effective way of checking the consistency and believability of a scenario, thus providing a validation mechanism.

The data indicated that by playing the games, players felt that they had a better sense of the key drivers of the scenarios. We interpreted that finding to be an indication that wargaming, through the concept of experiential learning, could provide JCPT members with a broader understanding of an FDS which logically should reduce the risk of them becoming too narrowly focussed in their capability assessments. However, the results were assessed as inconclusive with respect to the application of wargaming to directly identifying capability needs. A key contributor to this result was that we were not able to test a game that was properly designed for that purpose, as there wasn’t enough time and people to do a best-practices “design-test-run” game development cycle.

Although the time and personnel resource constraints did not allow for testing additional game styles or running more iterations, it was clear that the game styles tested are feasible and reasonable choices for future use, given the levels of resources that are available now and that are expected in the future. Similarly, it was not possible to conduct a comparison of the utility of the wargaming method with that of the current CBP model, which employs the OPP; hence, this too remains an open question.

At the level of granularity of strategic planning, tabletop wargaming has potential as a supporting element of scenario design and qualitative analysis. It brings together the knowledge embedded in the game design with the knowledge of participants (players, facilitators/adjudicators, control personnel) in order to explore plausible courses of events resulting from decisions made from the perspectives of the various roles. It can reveal nuances that are not obvious from scenario descriptions alone, and can illuminate relevant and driving factors associated with a scenario. It is not a method to statistically characterise selectively defined quantifications for a scenario.

To summarise the findings above, although the data from our trials is rather limited, we believe that there is evidence to support the hypothesis that wargaming can improve scenario validation. However, we judge the data to be inconclusive on whether it would improve capability identification.

Organising wargames always requires time and people resources. The amount is dictated by the scale and complexity of the game. The present work demonstrated that games suitable for the tasks in this project are feasible within our resource constraints. However, obtaining players on an ongoing basis, new or not, can present a challenge for which senior leadership support will be needed if it is to be met. Despite these challenges, a reasonable selection of game styles and scenarios was explored in this work and we had success (albeit limited) with bringing in players with diverse backgrounds.

A strength of wargaming is that game styles can be highly varied to suit different purposes, e.g., exploring plausible outcomes, scenario validation, familiarising planners with driving factors and training. In our trials, wargaming illuminated the dynamics that drive a scenario, uncovered logical inconsistencies (applicable to scenario validation), and sometimes revealed an unanticipated course of events. Applying wargaming to scenario validation should improve scenario design, while the insights into the driving factors would inform JCPT analyses, e.g., formulation of CoAs, required capabilities, MoC assessments, and capability delivery options.

In the end, this work revealed that none of the game designs trialled were optimally suited for explicit identification of capabilities. In the designs trialled, capability requirements were mostly implied by player CoAs and would have to be explicitly identified via a post hoc analysis. Although the Baseline matrix game did explicitly ask players about capability requirements, the ones identified were, in our view, not significantly different from those observed from a JCPT analysis; hence, the game design would need changes to guide players toward more innovative ideas.

We note that capabilities at tiers 2 and 3 in the JCF are defined to be generic, technology-independent, and thus enduring. Hence, it may be uncommon to identify wholly new capability requirements at that level, though any that are identified would certainly be informative. We expect that these would likely arise from an unanticipated course of events and/or CoAs. In contrast to tiers 2 and 3 capabilities, we noticed that players often thought in terms of, and identified, finer grain capabilities more readily (i.e., those tied to specific technologies, platforms, or assets), along with circumstantial factors that determine what capabilities make sense, at least in part.

Based on the limitations experienced in executing our wargames, it is possible that identification of CoAs and capabilities can be improved by mixing players from diverse backgrounds to enhance synergy, e.g., including relevant geopolitical expertise, operational experience, and futurist backgrounds. More open-ended games, e.g., Matrix style, have the flexibility to leverage the greater knowledge and ideas. In view of the challenges in obtaining players, this could be treated as an ideal to capitalise on, if it can be realised, and if it makes sense for the particular CBP phase in which a wargame is conducted.

Distilling wargaming wisdom at Dstl

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


 

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

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

Monday

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

Dstl Forecasting

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dstl Social Media Cyber

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

 

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Demonstrating influence dynamics in Hostage Negotiator.

Tuesday

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

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Gaming the “High North.”

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

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RAF wargaming—teaching about air logistics.

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More RAF wargaming. Strike package inbound!

Wednesday

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

Dstl Communications

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

Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

Friday

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

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Playtesting the WATU wargame.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Wargaming Wrens redux

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Dstl “Wrens.”

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

How can we avoid risky and dishonesty shifts in seminar wargames?

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Stephen Downes-Martin has written up the discussion from another Connections game lab session, this time on How can we avoid risky and dishonesty shifts in seminar wargames?

The group identified three research questions and identified and discusses nine ways that the risky and (dis)honest shifts could be baselined, measured, controlled or mitigated.

Two Behavior Shifts During Small Group Discussions

The (Dis)honesty Shift

Research indicates “that there is a stronger inclination to behave immorally in groups than individually,” resulting in group decisions that are less honest than the individuals would tolerate on their own. “Dishonest” in the context of the research means the group decisions break or skirt the ethical rules of the organization and societal norms, involve cheating and lying. Furthermore, the group discussions tend to shift the individuals’ post-discussion norms of honest behavior towards dishonest. First the discussion tends to challenge the honesty norm, then inattention to one’s own moral standards (during the actual discussion) and categorization malleability (the range in which dishonesty can occur without triggering self-assessment and self-examination) create the effect that “people can cheat, but their behaviors, which they would usually consider dishonest do not bear negatively on their self-concept (they are not forced to update their self-concept)”. The research indicates that it is the small group communication that causes the shift towards dishonesty that enables group members to coordinate on dishonest actions and change their beliefs about honest behavior”. The group members “establish a new norm regarding (dis)honest behavior”. Appeals to ethics standards seem to be effective in the short term [Mazar et al] but there is little evidence for long term effectiveness.

The Risky Shift

Research into risky or cautious shifts during group discussion looks at whether and when a group decision shifts to be riskier or more cautious than the decision that the individuals would have made on their own. One element driving the shift appears to be who bears the consequences of the decision – the group members, people the group members know (colleagues, friends, family), or people the group members do not know. There is evidence that individuals tend to be myopically risk averse when making decisions for themselves. Research indicates however that “risk preferences are attenuated when making decisions for other people: risk-averse participants take more risk for others whereas risk seeking participants take less.” Whether the group shows a risky shift or a cautious shift depends on the culture from which the group is drawn and the size of the shift seems to depend on the degree of empathy the group feels for those who will bear the consequences and risks of the decision.

Research into leadership shows that “responsibility aversion” is driven by a desire for more “certainty about what constitutes the best choice when others’ welfare is affected”, that individuals “who are less responsibility averse have higher questionnaire-based and real-life leadership scores” and do not seek more certainty when making decisions that are risky for others than they seek when making decisions that are risky for themselves alone. However, this research says nothing about the starting risk-seeking or risk-avoiding preference of the decision making leader.

See the full paper (link above) for further discussion, including the footnotes (which have been removed from the excerpt above).

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 11 August 2018

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PAXsims is pleased to offer some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers. Anders Russell and David Becker suggested material for this latest edition.

Like what you’re reading? You can always support the work of PAXsims via Patreon.

PAXsims

Save the date! The next Connections US professional wargaming conference will be held on 13-16 August 2019 at the US Army War College in Carlisle, PA.

Connections global

Also, don’t forget about the Connections North wargaming conference to be held in Montréal on 16 February 2019.

PAXsims

Highway-to-Seoul-768x437.pngThe Australian Army’s professional development website, The Cove, features a piece by Major Edward Farren (British Army) on using the Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) PC game Wargame Red Dragon at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst

Being the commander of a rehabilitation platoon could easily be viewed as an undesirable posting. All my soldiers were unable, through injury or sickness, to participate in the full range of training that I was used to running as an infantry officer. The post also naturally comes with a heavier burden of medical, welfare and policy bureaucracy which must be learnt, if not entirely mastered, in order to promote the recovery of the platoon. The nature of a rehabilitation platoon, however, makes it ideal for conceptual development. Indeed the minds of the broken (no disrespect intended) are in desperate need of stimulation and focus to avoid fixating on their plight, often prolonging their recovery and, for some, triggering their intention to leave the service altogether. The format for a typical day would see the troops under dedicated physiotherapists and injury specialists in the morning so by the time I got them for afternoon lessons they were generally fatigued. Therefore, the more practical I could make the lessons, and the more interaction involved generally, the better the outcome. The example in this article is but one iteration of a series of practical professional military education (PME) activities, largely centred on the use of wargaming, I employed to teach my soldiers. Those that came before me, and those that followed me, not doubt did things differently. That is, of course, their prerogative and the pleasure of one’s own command. I do not seek to compare methods, only to share what I consider to be an effective technique that others could replicate and improve upon.

Birth of an idea

Walking into the lines after duty one evening I discovered several of my charges playing a commercial PC game ‘Wargame Red Dragon’ in some form of multiplayer engagement. There was an electric sense of competition and associated bragging rights for the winner. Some casual enquiries revealed who the ‘best’ players of this little clique were. After a short discussion I had their support for using the simulation to train them in the upcoming Defensive Doctrine module. I decided that the best way to incorporate the simulation was as a CPX timed to assess conceptual understanding of defensive doctrine taught by traditional methods….

You’ll find the rest of the article here.

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PAXsims

Are you a teacher who wants some ideas on how to set up and run a gaming club at your high school? Look no further than On Sean’s Table.

This was year 16 for the Games Club I run at my high school. It reflected the trend in the larger gaming community: numbers were up overall, girls attended almost as much as boys, and the preferred type of game shifted decidedly from cardboard, dice, and counter to games focussed on more social interaction.

His blog has featured several other posts on high school gaming, including how he set it up, and what the best games are to have available for student play.

PAXsims

This is Not a Drill is an Australian Broadcasting Corporation television show that uses a seminar game/scenario discussion format to explore contemporary challenges, such as a crisis in the South China Sea or cybersecurity.

Recent episodes can be found on YouTube.

PAXsims

Shortly after last month’s Helsinki Summit (and its aftermath), the Washington Post ran a piece on Twilight Struggle–”perhaps the best board game ever.

In 2018, of course, Twilight Struggle — with its re-creation of a world in which the United States and Russia locked horns — is closer to describing current reality than at any point since it was released. “It definitely feels relevant now,” says Ananda Gupta, 41, who invented the game with Matthews. “All you’d need to do is add a few more cards and you could just extend it to today. … If I had a mind to, I’m confident we could do a Cold War game along the lines of the current one that’s happening.”

Indeed, in various online forums, fans of the game have taken to inventing their own contemporary cards, like one addressing President Trump’s abandonment of our European allies to court Vladimir Putin; that card removes the game’s blue-colored U.S. influence markers in Europe to provide an opening for Russian red ones. The anonymous fan who created the card named it “The Art of the Deal.”

The article discusses more than the game, and also touches upon the current renaissance of board gaming.

PAXsims

Reminder: Carleton University in Ottawa will be offering a two-day course on serious games on 22-23 November 2018.

Notice - NPSIA-PT&D's Practical Certificate in Serious Games for Policy Analysis and Capacity-Building workshop - Nov 2018

If all goes according to plan, I will be joined by two special international guests—one a well-known British wargamer and PAXsims associate editor, the other an American wargamer and occasional PAXsims contributor. I won’t tell you who they are yet, but here’s a hint…

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How can we credibly wargame cyber at an unclassified level?

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The frighteningly-efficient Stephen Downes-Martin has been kind enough to pass on a game lab report from the recent Connections US 2018 wargaming conference on “How can we credibly wargame cyber at an unclassified level?”  (pdf).

A small minority of cyber experts with wargaming and research experience have security clearances. If cyber operations are researched and gamed only at high levels of classification, then we limit our use of the intellectual capital of the United States and Allies and put at risk our ability to gain edge over our adversaries. We must find ways to wargame cyber[1]at the unclassified level while dealing with information security dangers to best use the skills within academia, business and the gaming community. During the Connections US Wargaming Conference 2018 a small group of interested people gathered for about an hour to discuss the question:

“How can we credibly wargame cyber at an unclassified level?”

The group concluded that it is possible to wargame cyber credibly and usefully at the unclassified level and proposed eight methods for doing so. The group also suggested it is first necessary to demonstrate and socialize this idea by gaming the trade-offs between the classification level and the value gained from wargaming cyber.

[1]“Wargaming cyber” and “gaming cyber” are loose terms which group deliberately left as such to encourage divergent thinking and to avoid becoming too specific.

Connections Oz 2018

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This year’s Connections Australasia professional wargaming conference will be held on 10-12 December 2018 at the University of Technology Sydney.

You’ll find further information and updates at the Connections Oz blog.

Mapmaker (the gerrymandering game) on Kickstarter

Three siblings from a gerrymandered district in Austin, Texas have a game project on Kickstarter that may interest the political scientists (and political hacks) among you: Mapmaker: The Gerrymandering Game:

In Mapmaker: The Gerrymandering Game, you are a mapmaker, which means you make maps… and determine who wins elections. Can you crack and pack voters? Can you scheme and strategize? Can you create unfair, lopsided, strangely shaped districts that will guarantee your party’s victory? Gerrymandering with friends and family (when it doesn’t affect real voters) is a whole lot of fun.

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The Kickstarter expires on August 7, and can be found here.

You’ll find some preview videos below.

The Matrix Games Handbook now available

IMG_0031.jpgThe History of Wargaming Project has just published The Matrix Games Handbook: Professional Applications from Education to Analysis and Wargaming. Edited by John Curry, Chris Engle, and Peter Perla, the 303 page volume is packed with matrix gaming goodness:

Section 1: The History of Matrix Games.

  • The Early Days of Matrix Games in the UK by Bob Cordery
  • The American History of Matrix Games by Chris Engle.
  • The Rise of Professional Matrix Games by Tim Price.

Section 2: Practical Advice

  • Running Matrix Games by Tim Price
  • Checklist by Tim Price
  • Sample Game: Baltic Challenge: NATO and Russian posturing in the Baltic Sea
  • The Australian Perspective by Todd Mason

Section 3: The Theory of Matrix Games

  • Walking in the Dark: An Allegory of Knowledge by Chris Engle
  • The Intellectual Underpinnings of Matrix Games by Chris Engle
  • Verbal Algorithms and the Human Machine by Chris Engle
  • Emerging Themes from the Matrix Game Based Narrative Methodology by John Curry

Section 4: Matrix Games and Education

  • Gaming Multi-Agency Responses by Helen Mitchard
  • Using Matrix Games in the Classroom by Dorian Love.
  • Effective Learning at the Swedish Defence University by Johan Elg
  • Language Training by Neal Durando
  • Reflections on Military Language Training by Jose Anibal Ortiz Manrique

Section 5: The Professional Application of Matrix Games

  • Gaming the Wars of the Future by Chris Engle
  • Operations Research Tools by Ben Taylor
  • Building Boyd Snowmobiles: Matrix Games as a Creative Catalyst for Developing Innovative Technology by Paul Vebber.
  • ISIS Crisis: Using a Matrix Game to Explore Contemporary Conflict by Rex Brynen

The Matrix Game handbook sells for £14.95, and is available from the History of Wargaming Project website.

 

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