Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

PlaySecure 2022

The 2022 PlaySecure conference will take place online on 15-18 June.

Play Secure explores the overlaps between play and security. Finding and looking at ways that games can be used in modelling real life scenarios to help in decision-making, anticipating upcoming issues, or in discovering new ways that systems of all types can be manipulated.

From D&D-styled incident response exercises to sessions on the psychology of play in creativity. Four interactive days of talks, games, and workshop sessions devoted to play and security.

Global and online-first, community focused, with a wealth of content on security, gaming, and the areas in between; you won’t find anything else like this.

Non-exhaustive examples are: * Tabletop incident pre-enactments as attacker, defender, and stakeholder teams * CTFs * Threat modelling card games * How to find the fun in Security by Design * Security Poker * What can MMORPGs can teach us about security and business crisis management? * How a board game can teach network security and DDoS mitigations? * How can gamification be made to work, and how can it fail? * Anything that brings together play and security… we’d love to see what you come up with…

The conference website and call for papers can be found here. The deadline for proposals is May 13.

MORS: Designing tactical wargames

The Military Operations Research Society is offering a three day online course on designing tactical games on 3-5 May 2022.

In this class, we will focus on building tactical games. Such games require us to represent the details of battle. Whether we do this using computer or manual techniques, it demands no small degree of simulation. We need to simulate the interaction of forces, the effects of human factors and technology, and the effects of the environment on combat. We also need to understand how tactical elements are commanded, and how to incorporate representations of command into our games. Any good wargame strives to produce realistic adjudications and outcomes, but the realism of tactical games is tested even more stringently because the players can more easily relate game mechanics and adjudication to their own, personal, experiences.

All of this can make designing tactical games different—and even more challenging—than designing operational or strategic games. This class will examine some of these challenges and their possible solutions in both theoretical and practical terms.

We will address the subject according to the different combat domains: ground, naval, and air. For ground combat we will discuss how good design must address basic concepts such as mission, time, space, forces, and command relationships. How do you bring all these variables together to create a realistic tactical environment for players to engage in ground warfare? We will review the development of different ways of representing ground combat based on a wide range of commercial and professional games and explore future challenges and innovative approaches.

Naval and air tactics are even more technically complex and interactive, involving systems from space to cyber and beyond. Games must represent not only putting ordnance on the target, but also the entire kill chain from identification to battle damage assessment. We will also explore requirements for gaming ground tactics primarily using manual games. Although these sorts of games lend themselves to digital simulation, digital simulations can limit designer and player creativity in the game design and execution processes. We will focus on designing exploratory games—games to create or test new tactics, weapon systems, or operational concepts. Our discussion of naval and air games will focus on the mid-to-high tactical level—more concerned about formations of multiple units and systems rather than individual ships or aircraft. This will allow us to examine games that incorporate multiple tactical options for the players and integrate the joint kill chain.

Participants will be able to influence the topics and detail covered depending on their interests and desires.

For example, we can go beyond traditional ground, naval, and air to delve into less common types of tactical games, such as tactical special operations games, requiring the representation and simulation of actions by individual operators. As part of these, we expect to draw from concepts in miniatures gaming to examine the challenges of micro-detailed games. We could consider as well the tactical issues in emergency response, cyber operations, technology assessment, humanitarian assistance, and disease response.

The course will be taught by Ed McGrady, Peter Perla, Phillip Pournelle, and Paul Vebber. Additional details and registration at the link above.

MCU: Gaming the war in Ukraine, continued

The Marine Corps War College and the Brute Krulak Center for Innovation and Future Warfare at Marine Corps University have continued their recent wargame of the war in Ukraine to look at the months ahead. At the Modern War Institute website, James Lacey, Tim Barrick and Nathan Barrick tell us how it has been going:

Our wargame’s advisors came from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, including United States military officers, representatives from NATO countries, two experts on internal Russian decision-making, and a retired Ukrainian colonel with experience on the Ukrainian general staff. The second iteration’s most significant change to gameplay was a switch from each turn representing a single day to three-month turns. This was done to allow us to play out a full year of combat operations within the time allotted to complete the wargame. Lengthening the game turn duration required a higher degree of adjudication abstraction than our previous wargame, but it proved essential to enabling players to look at broader operational and strategic considerations over the duration of a protracted conflict.

After applying expected geostrategic and operational developments over the remainder of this year and into the start of 2023, we determined the Russians reached an operational culmination well-short of their maximal objectives. Given the combination of Ukraine’s proven will and its capabilities in a defensive fight, the prospects for Russian forces in heavy urban combat proved daunting. By the end of the summer, Russia no longer possessed the forces to pursue major simultaneous objectives nor the combat power to conquer a major city. All was not rosy for the Ukrainians, who lacked the combat power to go on the offensive and eject Russia from the occupied territories. With neither side able to achieve decisive military effects in the offense, without exception, the combined teams predicted that without a negotiated settlement the war is headed toward an indefinite stalemate.

The ramifications of such an outcome are immense. First, of course, is the toll in human suffering, as losses mount on both sides, and the refugee crisis remains unalleviated for a year or more. For the United States, a stalemate means that the ad-hoc defense-related resupply arrangements require systemization and the establishment of a quasi-permanent logistics infrastructure. Ukraine’s future success also requires the establishment of training centers that can regenerate Ukraine’s frontline combat power and allow these forces to reenter the fight.

As we conducted the wargame, the surprises came fast and furious. The first was we entered the wargame with a flawed assumption about Russia’s prospects. Initially, we assessed that over the next four months the weight of the Russian force would gradually wear down Ukraine’s military and allow for a complete occupation of the country. After conducting open-source analysis to develop a current operating picture and assessing losses since the start of the war, the team agreed to fast forward one month and assume the collapse of MariupolSumy, and Konotop. The wargamers were then tasked to determine the major operational movements for the summer 2022 campaign, using as the key decision how Russia would employ the maneuver forces freed up by these successes and the option to employ forces held in reserve. In weighing and then employing the wargame to test courses of action, it rapidly became clear that Russia lacks the combat power to collapse the Ukrainian military this summer.

Another surprise for the wargame was the validation of how national leaders’ political objectives trounce the best military advice provided by generals. As the summer campaign played out, the “generals” (wargamers) were forced to decide how best to employ military forces, and shift combat resources, including strategic reserves, to accomplish objectives. Political requirements dominated military decision-making, as the expert military advice on future operations was overruled in favor of seizing objectives deemed more politically important. In this case, our Vladimir Putin ordered spectacular victories were necessary to sustain his own power, repeatedly saying that the postwar condition of the army was of small consequence.

You can find the rest of the article here.

UK Fight Club parent-daughter wargaming night

UK Fight Club is sponsoring a parent-daughter online wargaming night on Sunday, 24 April at 1700 GMT, via Discord and Steam.

You can sign up here.

Sepinsky and Bae: Wargaming is about the process, not the result

In Foreign Policy magazine, Jeremy Sepinsky and Sebatian Bae discuss the use, utility, and limits of wargaming as an analytic tool, using as an example a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

This is the kind of narrative most people imagine when they think of military war games—scenes in the bowels of the Pentagon, units fighting digitally on electronic maps, commanders pondering their next step in a fast-moving crisis. Victory in the simulation, so the popular imagination goes, shows how to win a real-life conflict. Defeat in a war game, on the other hand, is an acknowledgement that any actual conflict will likely be lost.

Contrary to the popular imagination, however, this is not how war games work. Rarely is a war game designed to predict the future or develop a single definitive strategy. Instead, a war game helps military planners and analysts explore and understand a complex problem, regardless of the outcome. Win or lose, the purpose isn’t to define a strategy for the U.S. military but to help it better understand the capabilities it has, what it can already do, and what it needs.

Whether it’s Taiwan or any other potential conflict, the scenario is rarely the focus of the war games we at CNA design for the U.S. Defense Department. Instead, war games are about better understanding how the U.S. military can build deterrence, what technology gaps could hobble its forces, how an adversary’s capabilities might evolve in response to U.S. capabilities, and how all that might impact what Washington should invest in today. Fundamentally, war games strive to explore and distill the fundamental nature of the problem itself—which rarely leads to definitive scenarios or solutions.

In fact, using war games to craft a clear-cut strategy is impossible. Done right, war games are a plausible method of providing a brief and limited glimpse into a possible future—a single future in a multiverse of possibilities. Trying to imitate victory in a war game, on the other hand, means trying to align both sides’ future decisions in a complex conflict with the scenario that played out during the game. Obviously, these decisions are numerous and mostly beyond one’s control.

What worked in a single war game has limited utility—it worked against a specific adversary making a specific set of decisions using a specific set of game rules that may or may not accurately reflect the world. Failure, on the other hand, doesn’t require the game to be a perfect simulation. We often hear complaints from players that our war game rules make the adversary “10 feet tall.” But it is better to stress U.S. forces more than to give the adversary too little credit and not stress U.S. forces enough. Stressing the capabilities of the U.S. forces to their breaking point from all sides allows analysts and researchers to identify vulnerabilities and what might be needed to fix them.

They conclude:

So, in a war game, pay no attention to who won or lost. War-gaming is about the process, not the result—and analyzing that process is what will allow the U.S. military to turn losing into winning.

You can read the full article at the link above. For more on wargaming Taiwan, see Drew Marriott’s 2021 summary of recent Taiwan wargames here at PAXsims.

Sally Davis wins UK MoD award for work on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming

Everyone at PAXsims is extremely pleased to report that Sally Davis has won yet another award for her work in promoting diversity and inclusion within the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) and professional wargaming more broadly, this time from the Chief Scientific Adviser of the UK Ministry of Defence.

We’re reliably informed, too, that Derby House Principles pins were in evidence in MoD Main Building during the event!

Connections Online 2022

The Connections Online 22 professional wargaming conference will take place on 19-21 April 2022 (core events), with extended events taking place 18-24 April.

Additional details can be found at Armchair Dragoons.

Reflections on gaming not-Ukraine

I’ll start this post with a three caveats.

First, there are stark limits as to what any wargame “not about Ukraine” can teach you about the current war in Ukraine, especially a commercial hobby or entertainment game.

Second, as Nicholas Moran noted in a recent video, it is tempting to draw conclusions based on the images and videos available on social media and elsewhere. However, this is problematic in many respects: not only do they represent only a very small part of what is going on, but most have been recorded, edited, and disseminated in support of various narratives.

Third, there are some wargames focused on the current war in Ukraine out there that may offer valuable findings. Here, I am thinking of the recent wargame conducted by James Lacey, Tim Barrick, and Nathan Barrick and their colleagues at the Marine Corps University (with participation from the wargaming cell at the Canadian Joint Warfare Centre). PAXsims also featured an earlier piece on wargaming the Ukrainian crisis back in 2014, when the Donbas war started.

Having said all that however, I want to reflect on two sets of “not Ukraine” wargames I was involved in that did generate some interesting insights, viewed in the context of recent events.

The first was a series of tactical miniatures games in 2020 in which I served as umpire. These used 1:285 microarmor, a hybrid, updated set of the old Wargame Research Group “modern” rules, and Zoom to allow distributed play and ground level cameras for “fog of war.” All of them looked at a potential Russian invasion of Estonia, pitting most or all of a Russian battalion tactical group (represented on a 1:1 scale) against Estonian and other NATO defenders. Most of the participants were Canadian or British defence analysts, who look at modern warfare for a living. A central part of the process of what we were doing was trying to understand what was and was not changing in modern high-intensity conflict.

Some things we got right. Even mechanized forces still struggle with woods and mud. The ISR capabilities provided by modern UAVs can be a powerful force multiplier.

Other aspects were prescient: light or dismounted infantry could do real damage with ATGMs, despite explosive reactive armour (ERA) and active protections systems (APS).

Still other things we got wrong. Russian artillery can be devastating, but in our games the Russian military was far more adroit using it in a fluid battlespace than seems to be the case in Ukraine. Much the same could be said about Russian electronic warfare (EW) capabilities. Fundamentally, therefore, we assumed that Russian C4I was far more agile and capable than it seems to be in Ukraine. We assumed that thermal sights, APS, and other systems were more widely installed in Russian armoured vehicles than appears to be the case. We overestimated the availability of other capabilities, such as sensor fuzed submunitions. We also overestimated morale and subunit performance. Finally, like most tactical games, we didn’t model the effects of supply and maintenance.

I also took part, generally as a RED or BLUE team leader, in a series of day- or days-long games last year that looked at influence operations in a “not-Ukraine-but-rather-like-Ukraine” setting. These were undertaken for a serious purpose, namely to explore how one could model messaging and influence, and the effect of non-kinetic operations more broadly, rather than trying to understand any particular country or conflict. The game did this by creating an independent social media community, with participants assigned social, ethnic, and political backgrounds but otherwise free to interact as they wished. The teams then sought to influence this “jury” to advance their favoured discourse and narratives in support of their broader their strategic goals.

Not everything went right here either, but that was expected: the whole point of the exercise was to develop the methodology. Overall I think the designers and sponsors should be proud of what they achieved, which really did generate a dynamic and responsive social media environment.

In these games, a team was most successful when:

  • they were quick off the loop, getting inside the other side’s informational OODA (decision) loop;
  • they crafted stirring or witty messages that addressed real grievances, fears, and events;
  • they targeted different communities with different messages;
  • messaging was multi-faceted and pushed along multiple channels, but linked to a convincing set of narratives.
  • influencers responded to, built upon, worked with, and even adopted memes, themes, and narratives that emerged organically within key communities.
Above, Bobr the Beaver from the not-Ukraine influence game. Below, the Ukrainian National Guard tweeting cartoon cats.

In short, what worked looked very much like what has worked for the Ukrainians in the current war, right down to heroic leaders and cute memes. While the dynamics of influence have been changed by the internet and social media, I have been struck that good messaging hasn’t changed that much at all: it would be recognized by the propagandists of WW II, a most every advertising writer or political campaign advisor of the past century. No technology in the world is going to make your influence operation work if the basic messaging is weak.

16th NATO Operations Research and Analysis conference

The 16th annual NATO Operations Research and Analysis (OR&A) conference will take place in Copenhagen, Denmark, on 18-19 October 2022. The event will be both in-person and partly hybrid.

This year’s conference theme is “OR&A: New ideas, old realities”. The theme reflects the long-standing practice of Operations Research and Analysis in Defence, tackling ongoing challenges faced by the Alliance and looks to the future to bring new methods to old challenges or well-established methods on future challenges. The PC is particularly interested in content relevant to NATO’s warfare development imperatives1: Cognitive Superiority; Layered Resilience; Influence and Power Projection; Integrated Multi-Domain Defence; and Cross-Domain Command.

Interested candidates are invited to submit an abstract (between 150 to 250 words) for consideration no later than 31 March 2022. Candidates are asked to carefully adhere to the abstract instructions and use the abstract submission tool located on the STO Event website.

Abstracts are due by March 31. More information is available at the link above.

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 25 March 2022

It has been a while since we posted one of these, but PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers. Aaron Danis, Oliver Resnick, and Philip Sabin suggested items for this latest edition.

At the Modern War Institute, Kristan Wheaton and Jason Brown discuss “understanding strategic culture through games.”

There are relatively few individuals within the United States government who understand how, for example, Napoleon used the strategy of the central position in the Hundred Days campaign. Nevertheless, there is almost no one who would not understand, “It’s fourth and ten—we have to punt.”

The games we play represent our first, and arguably our most important, strategic language. Sports games such as American football, soccer, or basketball, tabletop games such as chess or go, and even video games such as Starcraft or League of Legendsprovide a common, implicitly learned language of strategy. This language channels strategic thinking while facilitating communication. These games not only influence the strategic planning of countries but also of important world leaders. Just as it is possible, for example, to see elements of American football in US strategic thinking, it is also possible to see the fundamental premises of judo, Vladimir Putin’s sport, in Russia’s efforts to use its opponents’ strengths against them.

It is, of course, possible to overextend this insight. Games are certainly not the only influence on a culture’s, a country’s, or a person’s strategic thinking. History, education, economics, politics, as well as the broader context of the situation play a role. That said, games, despite their obvious influence, have historically been underexamined as both an inspiration and a catalyst for strategic thought.

Sports and games played and enjoyed over a lifetime undoubtedly influence the strategic thinking of individuals. To the extent that these activities are well-known or widely played, they also arguably influence the way national security decision makers think and act when making strategic decisions. Perhaps most importantly, however, these sports and games create the language with which senior leaders can better communicate their plans and intentions to fellow citizens. While the exact nature of these connections is clearly a subject for future studies, such studies will likely shed light on the wide range of influence the implicitly learned lessons of games continue to have on the strategic thinking of leaders across the globe.

MIT reports on the activities of its Wargaming Working Group at the Center for International Studies.

War games and crisis simulations are exercises where participants make decisions to simulate real-world behavior. In the field of international security, games are frequently used to study how actors make decisions during conflict, but they can also be used to model human behavior in countless other scenarios. 

War games take place in a “structured-unstructured environment,” according to Benjamin Harris, PhD student in the Department of Political Science and a convener of the MIT Wargaming Working Group at the Center for International Studies (CIS).

This means that the games operate at two levels — an overarching structure conditions what kind of moves players can make, but interactions among team members are unstructured. As a result, people with different backgrounds are forced to engage and learn from each other throughout the simulation. “The game goes where the participants take it,” says Harris.

MIT researchers have been developing the craft of war gaming since the late 1950s. In “The Pioneering Role of CIS in American War Gaming,” Reid Pauly PhD ’19, assistant professor at Brown University and a CIS research affiliate, credits the origins of modern war-gaming methodology in large part to MIT professor Lincoln Bloomfield and other faculty affiliated with CIS.

Today, CIS is again at the center of new developments in the methodology, pedagogy, and application of war gaming. Over the last few years, CIS and the MIT Security Studies Program have responded to an increased demand for war gaming among students and from the policy community. This has resulted in new course offerings, student and faculty-produced research, and on-campus simulations. 

PhD student Suzanne Freeman and Harris started the Wargaming Working Group as a forum for students to engage with the war-gaming community on campus and in policy spaces. Now in its third year, the group has developed a partnership with the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) that brings mid-career military officers and academics together for an annual simulation.

Richard Samuels, Ford International Professor of Political Science and director of CIS, participated in his first crisis simulation in a game organized by Bloomfield, and subsequently organized nearly a dozen large-scale games at MIT in the 1990s through the early 2000s, most focused on Asia-Pacific security dynamics. Eric Heginbotham PhD ’04, a principal research scientist at CIS, and Christopher Twomey PhD ’05, were active participants. Together, they established the working group’s partnership with NPS, where Twomey is associate professor.

This year, participants worked through a crisis scenario centered on a nuclear reactor meltdown in Taiwan. Teams were assigned to represent Taiwan, China, the United States, and Japan, and the game was designed to tease out how civilian and military sub-teams would communicate during a crisis. Freeman and Harris presented some of the findings from the war game at Georgetown University in October 2021.

In addition to planning tabletop exercises at MIT, the working group invites speakers from universities and think tanks to present war-gaming research, and held online war games when MIT went virtual due to Covid-19. The working group has been especially successful at bridging the gap between academia and policy, allowing for PhD students and military officers to learn from each other, says Freeman.              

For students hoping to further explore the history and practice of war gaming in a classroom setting, MIT now offers “Simulating Global Dynamics and War,” co-taught biennially by Samuels and Heginbotham. Students participate in four war games over the course of the semester — an operational war game, political-military crisis game, experimental game, and a game designed by students as their final project. 

While the class is designed for security studies students and military fellows, it has included students and practitioners from other fields interested in incorporating gaming into their work. Lessons from the course can be applied to issues such as a global pandemic or refugee crisis, says Heginbotham.

For MIT undergraduates taking coursework in political science, war gaming is also a pedagogical tool used to consider the implications of policy decisions. In fall 2021, students in Erik Lin-Greenberg’s National Security Policy class participated in a simulation centered around a cyberattack on U.S. soil. Students worked in teams to represent U.S. government agencies at a National Security Council Principals Committee meeting. Lin-Greenberg is assistant professor of political science at MIT.

The Patterson School of Diplomacy at the University of Kentucky held a crisis simulation in February, set in Venezuela. You’ll find details on that here.

The O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University has started running national security simulations for its undergraduate students. You can read about it here.

Here and here Bryan Alexander discusses using university simulation game in a graduate seminar.

The Military Times recently reported on one use of wargaming at the US Army War College:

During the first week of March, as the eyes of the world were on the valiant defenders of Ukraine, officers at the Army War College in Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania were fighting a war in Asia — admittedly, while keeping close watch on the war in Ukraine as well. Their mission: prevent the People’s Republic of China from gaining control of the South China Sea.

Well, that was the mission of half of the staff groups; the others, portraying China, were tasked to seize control of the South China Sea. Seminars composed of some fifteen officers compete against the seminar next door; the one we, the faculty teaching team, watched and mentored included a majority of active duty Army officers but also a Guardsman, a reserve JAG, two Air Force officers, a Marine, and a Department of the Army civilian, as well as allied officers from Montenegro, Nepal, and Pakistan. The opposing team portraying China had a roughly similar array of talent; most of the officers have about twenty years of service, including many with multiple combat tours in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The game, developed by Army officers Lt. Col. Derek Martin and Col. Chris Hossfeld of the Army War College, is carefully calibrated so that each side has a roughly equal chance of winning a pretend war over the critical piece of terrain known as the South China Sea, with game pieces that replicate weapons systems including advanced missiles, aircraft, ships, submarines, Marine and army ground and air defense units, and Special Operations Forces. The Navy has used this same scenario to test and develop its latest warfighting concept; while the Army War College has used war games to develop the warfighting and war-winning abilities of its students for many decades, this is the first time it has tried this particular game.

The big idea? Officers, and particularly generals, do not often get to “practice” warfare at the operational level. Senior officers are usually are thrust into warfare where the stakes are highest but their experience in actual combat at that level is at its lowest. This is a chance to exercise and improve their judgement in the application of military power to achieve national objectives in a joint and coalition setting against a thinking adversary where decisions have consequences.

CSIS (the US think tank, not the Canadian spy agency) recently published a paper by Benjamin Jensen, Bonny Lin, Carolina G. Ramos entitled Shadow Risk: What Crisis Simulations Reveal about the Dangers of Deferring U.S. Responses to China’s Gray Zone Campaign against Taiwan.

To analyze gray zone escalation dynamics around Taiwan, the researchers adapted a tabletop exercise (TTX) format to conduct a conjoint experiment over the course of 20 crisis simulations during the Fall of 2021.41 In 10 treatments, U.S. players had access to long-term crisis options using military power. In 10 treatments, U.S. players only had access to more immediate military response options. The underlying scenario, summarized below, was held constant across the events and involved a standoff over the Kinmen Islands in 2027. The scenario posited that Chinese military, economic, and diplomatic pressure on Taiwan increased after the 2024 Taiwanese presidential election. By 2026, there are weekly major Chinese incursions into the island’s air defense identification zone, including fighters, nuclear-capable bombers, and antisubmarine warfare platforms. In the last three months, these activities have intensified through the operation of naval surface action groups and simulated military operations off the eastern coast of Taiwan. China has increased pressure on the Taiwanese Kinmen (10 km off the coast of mainland China) which Beijing seeks to claim jurisdiction over. Kinmen leaps into international news when in 2027 a gas pipeline explosion damages a nearby Chinese fishing vessel. Chinese media claims that the explosion resulted from an attack by Taiwanese separatists and uses it as an opportunity to expand its East China Sea air identification zone to cover the entirety of Kinmen. Simultaneously, China conducts large military exercises firing missiles into the East China Sea and simulating attack runs to the north and south of Taiwan while entering the Japanese airspace. As Japan deploys naval vessels in response, multiple countries warn the Kinmen crisis could spark a wider military confrontation with China. World stock markets drop 10 percent as funds shift to U.S. bonds and gold prices surge. Taiwan requests assistance, and the U.S. president is under increasing pressure to respond to this economic and military challenge.

It’s very well done—you will find the full report (together with a decription of the methodology) at the link above.

At The Futurist, Stephen Aguilar-Millan discusses the lessons to be learned from a recent Belt and Road Initiative policy game, Xi Turns West. You will also find a turn-by-turn account of the game at the website.

A recent CNAS report by Becca Wasser and Martijn Rasser, When the Chips Are Down: Gaming the Global Semiconductor Competition, examines technological and supply chain vulnerabilities:

Given the complexity of the topic at hand, the CNAS Gaming Lab developed a strategy game to examine global semiconductor competition. Games provide a “safe to fail” environment, which is particularly conducive to examining poorly understood problems. Games also serve as powerful tools for establishing a shared understanding of a problem, given their collaborative and experiential format and ability to convene different communities. The Chips Are Down game enabled the CNAS team to learn more about the competition for semiconductors, while providing game participants with a shared understanding of the critical implications of the competition.

The Chips Are Down game produced critical insights into the nature of U.S.-China strategic competition and global competition for semiconductors, discussed in this report. This report first provides an overview of the game including its purpose, the scenario, and the game design. Next, it details four key insights derived from the game, examining their emergence during gameplay and their real-world implications. Lastly, it concludes with recommendations for overcoming a set of challenges stemming from these insights, aimed at improving the U.S. position in future strategic competition.

A recent episode of the #BruteCast podcast by the Krulak Center (Marine Corps University) featured a discussion by Emma Ashford, James “Pigeon” Fielder, Andrew Reddie, Damien O’Connell, and Sebastian J. Bae on rapid wargame prototyping for crises.

As part of our special focus on #Russia and #Ukraine, #TeamKrulak brought you our first panel event of 2022 with a unique group of individuals focusing on a unique topic. How does wargaming help when the problem is a rapidly unfolding crisis in a fluid environment, such as the Russian build-up near Ukraine, when an off-the-shelf option, or deliberately designed wargame, isn’t readily available? This is what our panel discussed, examining the challenges of rapidly developing a wargame framework for a dynamic crisis, the specific aspects of the crisis near Ukraine that decision-makers and policy framers would want to simulate, and different approaches for developing useful wargame options in such a scenario.

At the Carnegie Endowment, Christopher Chivvis addresses how the Russian invasion of Ukraine might end, suggesting that past, (pre-invasion) wargames about potential conflict and escalation in Europe paint a dark picture:

Amid this escalation, experts can spin out an infinite number of branching scenarios on how this might end. But scores of war games conducted for the U.S. and allied governments and my own experience as the U.S. national intelligence officer for Europe suggest that if we boil it down, there are really only two paths toward ending the war: one, continued escalation, potentially across the nuclear threshold; the other, a bitter peace imposed on a defeated Ukraine that will be extremely hard for the United States and many European allies to swallow.

For those who want to model the consequences of nuclear wepaons use in Europe or elsewhere, there is always NukeMap.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports White House scenario planning by an interagency “Tiger Team” to examine scenarios, contingencies, and responses. The Washington Post also has coverage such contingency planning.

Earlier this month, Workz hosted a special session on wargaming the Ukraine crisis in collaboration with The Royal Danish Defence College. You’ll find a report here.

At Systemic Hatreds, Paul Musgrave discusses video wargames in an era of real war.

Interested in gaming arctic policy issues? Check out the Arctic Future simulation website.

At The War Room, Bob Bradford and Fred Gellert discuss learning from past US Army experiments.

Garbage in, garbage out. We all know the idea but it’s possible the military has forgotten the maxim a few times in the past when designing wargames. WAR ROOM welcomes Bob Bradford and Fred Gellert to explain a few basic tenets that will ensure experiments and wargames yield valid and useful insights. It might seem simple but concepts like asking valid, measurable questions, developing testable hypotheses, and a well resourced, adaptive OPFOR are just a few points that will ensure the Army makes good choices about preparing for the future.

Interested in wargaming and intelligence analysis? Here’s a 1998 monograph by Jonathan Lockwood, and Donald J. Hanle that is now available online.

In February, the Hoover Institution launched a series of webinars on  Wargaming: Its History, Application, and Future Use.

Jim Wallman recently spoke about facilitating megagames at MegaCon 2022. Here the video (and links to others).

Philip Sabin‘s farewell lecture at King’s College London is now available on YouTube. Harold Buchanan and Volko Ruhnke also interviewed him last year, the video of which is also available.

KWN: Kuehn on wargame assessment (April 13)

The King’s Wargaming Network (King’s College London) has announced the first lecture in their 2021-2022 public lectures series. The theme this year is “evaluating and assessing the impact of wargaming on individuals and organizations.” This first lecture will feature Kate Kuehn on the subject of “the valid and meaningful assessment of wargames.”

Wargames offer a promising avenue for analyzing the quality of plans or decisions as well as for developing and assessing player or team capabilities. Within a military education context, wargames can reproduce authentic, complex environments that facilitate application and integration of critical 21st century learning skills like creativity, collaboration, and problem-solving. At the same time, these dynamic environments pose a challenge for traditional measurement approaches, evidenced by numerous critiques of simulation-based learning, games-based learning, and wargaming assessment practices. Purposeful integration of assessment into wargaming design is essential to demonstrating the value of wargaming for individuals and institutions. This lecture will highlight key principles of sound and meaningful assessment within wargaming contexts, synthesizing literature from measurement and gaming disciplines. The discussion will also integrate lessons from a case study that examined assessment challenges and practices of a U.S. military education program that is rapidly expanding these activities in its curriculum. The findings highlighted key mechanisms and opportunities to “bake assessment in” to wargame design and facilitation. The presentation seeks to offer a guide for practitioners who are seeking to implement valid and meaningful assessment of learning that can be adapted to their own wargaming practices.

Kate Kuehn is the Director of Institutional Research, Assessment, and Planning at Marine Corps University (MCU). In addition to managing the University’s institutional effectiveness process, she supports the evaluation of all MCU professional military education programs and directorates. Kate has spent 12 years working on evaluation and assessment of military education programs, providing advice on the design of learning assessments at the classroom, program, and institutional level. She is a member of the Military Education Assessment Advisory Group and has frequently served on military accreditation teams. Her research focuses on assessment and performance evaluation in complex contexts. More specifically, she is currently focused on assessment in team-based simulated learning environments. Kate has an MA from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and a BA from the College of William and Mary. She is a doctoral candidate at George Mason University’s College of Education and Human Development with specializations in education research methodology and educational psychology. Her dissertation proposes an assessment framework for collaborative, ill-structured games, and examines its application to educational wargaming practice.

Registration is free, via Eventbrite.

Simulation & Gaming (April 2022)

The latest edition of Simulation & Gaming 53, 2 (April 2022) is now available.


  • Diversity Games 
    • Marlies P. Schijven and Toshiko Kikkawa


  • The Serious Game and Integrated Simulator for Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation Training in Nursing Students 
    • Ayla Demirtas, Tulay Basak, Gul Sahin, and Murat Çagatay Sonkaya
  • Virtual Reality Instructional Design in Orthopedic Physical Therapy Education: A Mixed-Methods Usability Test 
    • Aaron J. Hartstein, Margaret Verkuyl, Kory Zimney, Jean Yockey, and Patti Berg-Poppe
  • Modern Technologies and Gamification in Historical Education 
    • Marina Moseikina, Saken Toktamysov, and Svetlana Danshina

Research Articles

  • To Triumph or to Socialize? The Role of Gaming Motivations in Multiplayer Online Battle Arena Gameplay Preferences 
    • Justin W. Bonny and Lisa M. Castaneda
  • Fast Serious Analogue Games in Planning: The Role of Non-Player Participants 
    • Micael Sousa, António Pais Antunes, Nuno Pinto, and Nelson Zagalo
  • Fostering Students’ Understanding in Mangrove Ecosystem: A Case Study Using the Mangrove Survivor Board Game 
    • Lalipat Gitgeatpong and Watcharee Ketpichainarong

Connections UK at DSET 2022

In conjunction with UK Fight Club, Connections UK is supporting the UK MOD’s Defence Simulation, Education and Training (DSET) conference in June 2022. The conference runs from 7 – 10 June, but the day featuring Connections UK is Wednesday 8 June. This will be face-to-face at Ashton Gate Stadium, Bristol, UK, and akin to a Games Fair at a Connections UK. The purpose is explained below:

Wargaming is recognised as a valuable tool for commanders, leaders and managers, both within and outside the Ministry of Defence. The Connections professional wargaming community, through hands-on gameplay, will demonstrate to DSET attendees the utility of manual simulation as a complementary approach to computer simulation (which will be demonstrated by UK Fight Club). The aim is to do this by hands-on “learning by doing”, so direct participation is strongly encouraged.

The wargames shown by Connections UK will demonstrate manual simulation approaches that encompass all domains: air, land, maritime, cyber and space, plus the logistics and ‘jointery’ necessary to glue these together. The following registration options are available:

You can find out more details on the DSET conference at 

Outbreak READY! infectious disease simulation

The READY Initiative was established in 2018 by Save the Children, the Johns Hopkins Center for Humanitarian Health, the Johns Hopkins Center for Communications Programs, UK-Med, EcoHealth Alliance and Mercy Malaysia to strengthen global capacity to respond to major disease outbreaks. To the end it has developed a variety of training and outreach programmes, operational readiness checklists, and other tools for use by humanitarian and development NGOs and others. Funding is provided by USAID.

Much of this training initially took place in-person—something that became more difficult when the global COVID-19 pandemic hit. To facilitate remote training, it was decided to develop an online simulation: Outbreak READY!

Outbreak READY! is a digital simulation strengthening the readiness of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to respond to large-scale infectious disease outbreaks in humanitarian contexts. Through a unique, digital interpretation of an outbreak simulation, READY brings the complex nature of a humanitarian outbreak response to life utilizing a computer-based serious game that allows participants to test and refine their readiness skills and knowledge.

In Outbreak READY!, you will take the role of an NGO team lead managing a multi-sectoral humanitarian program portfolio for a medium-sized, international NGO named READY. The response takes place in a fictitious, low-income country that recently experienced civil conflict following a disputed national election. The simulation is divided into two modules: the first focuses on readiness prioritizations and actions as an outbreak is identified in a neighboring country; the second focuses on the NGO’s response to the outbreak as it begins to spread. Over the course of the simulation, the learner must make decisions that determine how the NGO adapts and expands programs to respond to the outbreak.

The simulation is designed for national and international NGOs responding to humanitarian emergencies, particularly targeting NGO leaders and managers from both operational and programmatic backgrounds across all sectors.

This simulation is set in “Thisland,” a low-income developing country that recently suffered from a period of violent conflict. Government capacity is limited outside the capital and corruption remains a serious problem. The country’s public health infrastructure is weak. As noted above, the player assumes the role of the team lead for an international humanitarian relief and development non-governmental organization (READY) in the outlying city of Murelle. Your current programmes include health and nutrition, food security and livelihoods, cash and voucher assistance, and water, sanitation, and hygiene. Community engagement and protection are mainstreamed across your portfolio. In the course of the simulation you’ll interact with your country director, local staff, public health officials, a partner NGO, a journalist, and a community leader—among others

The narrative-choice simulation is designed for experienced humanitarian aid workers, not for neophytes. It is also more of a simulation than it is a game. There is a lot of information to juggle. Don’t expect to see immediate epidemiological consequences from your actions, since that’s not the way it works it the field—especially when you’re but one small part of a multi-stakeholder response. The simulation content was built with input from dozens of subject matter experts.

Nevertheless, I’ve used it with my own undergraduates, and the feedback has been very positive. I think it also has considerable value for “humanitarian adjacent” organizations and personnel who would like better insight into the perspective, concerns, and priorities of the humanitarian aid community. If you’re instructing military personnel, diplomats, or journalists about humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, for example, I think they would learn a lot.

The simulation is browser-based for ease of access, designed for low-bandwidth environments, and intended to be robust across a broad range of browsers, platforms, and operating systems. It will be localized into French and Spanish too. &RANJ—the digital game company behind the peacebuilding game Mission Zhobia—was the development studio for the project.

From the very beginning, Outbreak READY was also designed with support for briefing, debriefing, and pedagogical support built into the project. The website thus includes an optional pre-reading package, a solo play guide, and very substantial (70+ page) facilitation guides for both virtual and in-person events. When players complete the simulation they also receive a substantial evaluation of their effectiveness as a humanitarian team leader during a major infectious disease outbreak.

I was fortunate to work on the project as part of the READY team (who, it must be said, were an absolutely terrific group to work with.) Click the link and give it a try!

CNAS: Research assistant wanted

The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) is seeking to hire a Research Assistant to support its Defense Program. Candidates with project management, event management, and scheduling experience, along with an interest in defense strategy and wargaming are strongly encouraged to apply.

Additional details can be found here.

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