PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

CONNECTIONS NORTH 2019 conference report

CONNECTIONS NORTH

On February 16, McGill University hosted the third annual CONNECTIONS NORTH professional wargaming conference. We might be biased as the organizers, of course, but we were very pleased at how it all turned out.

Attendance was excellent, with 73 people registered for the event. This was triple our attendance last year. CONNECTIONS NORTH is now the third largest of the Connections wargaming conferences, behind the Connections US and Connections UK—although Connections NL and Connections Oz still have us all beat on participants relative to national population.

The conference programme and speaker biographies can be found here.

Of those who attended, slightly over half were national security professionals, researchers and educators, game designers, and hobbyists. The reminder university students from McGill University, other Montreal universities, and beyond. We were pleased to see participants from across the Department of National Defence (Canadian Joint Warfare Centre, Royal Military College, Canadian Forces College, Defence Research and Development Canada, and elsewhere), other government departments, the US Army War College, and the US Naval War College, as well as colleagues from as far afield as the UK, Netherlands, Norway, and Australia. Amongst the students there was even a group who travelled up from Tufts University and MIT for the event!

The first panel featured Ben Taylor (Defence Research and Development Canada) and LCol Mike Beauvais (Canadian Joint Warfare Centre), who provided an overview of wargaming in Canada. Ben surveyed a range of activities that DRDC had supported in recent years (slides/pdf), while Mike discussed a recent ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) wargame conducted at the CJWC. They both noted a recent resurgence in wargaming in Canada, although it remains somewhat sporadic and disconnected, with many parts of DND (or other government departments) not aware of what others might be doing. Hopefully, activities such as Connections North, outreach by DRDC, and the establishment of  a wargaming and red teaming group at the CJWC all provide an opportunity to “connect the dots” in this regard. David Last (Canadian Forces College), Stephen Downes- Martin (US Naval War College), and David Redpath (Revision Military) all offered their own thoughts as discussants, and then other attendees had an opportunity to offer questions or observations.

 

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Next, our attention turned to wargaming methods and approaches. Murray Dixson (DRDC) talked about the work he and others are doing on updating and developing course of action analysis as part of NATO SAS (System Analysis and Studies panel) 130 (slides/pdf). Stephen Downes-Martin  (US Naval War College) explored group dynamics in wargames (full paper/pdf), highlighting the ways in which group discussion and decision-making processes might produce sub-optimal analysis. His presentation certainly highlighted the relatively unstructured and unscientific way that the wargaming community has thus far approached the issue, and the insight that could be had from drawing upon existing scholarship in the fields of psychology, decision science, and management.

After lunch, a session on “from war to peace” looked at the use of serious games to examine insurgency, peace and stabilization operations, and peacebuilding more broadly. This session had been made possible through a McDonald, Currie Professional Development Award from McGill’s Institute for the Study of International Development.

Game designer Brian Train (who has likely designed more commercial counterinsurgency wargames than anyone else, ever) discussed “Soft Power Maps: Integrating the Political, Social and Economic in Insurgency Games” (slides/pdf). His presentation highlighted the evolution of game systems and approaches in his own work. Anja van der Hulst (TNO) offered some “Reflections on Peace and Stabilization Games,” recounting the various steps (and missteps) in the development of the Go4it Comprehensive Approach simulation Model, which she ran very successfully for McGill University students last year. I talked about serious games and peacebuilding, introducing a few cases where we have used games or game techniques to assist in contingency planning in the humanitarian sector, to support peace negotiations, or even to influence parties to an ongoing conflict (slides/pdf). Finally, Jim Wallman (Stone Paper Scissors) offered his own thoughts on gaming peace operations, drawing upon the examples of both his War in Binni megagame, and his smaller Barwick Green peacekeeping game (slides/pdf).

With that, the formal sessions came to an end. However, we weren’t quite finished yet. After some moving of chairs and tables, we were ready for a few hours of gaming. The games on display or being played included:

  • Barwick Green (contemporary peacekeeping operations)
  • We Are Coming, Nineveh (the Iraqi liberation of West Mosul)
  • Reckoning of Vultures (a matrix game of coup plotting in a fictional republic)
  • District Commander Maracas (counter-insurgency in a fictional megacity)
  • Nights of Fire (1956 Hungarian rebellion)
  • Trump’ets at Dawn (hypothetical MEU landing in Venezuela)
  • The Day My Life Froze (refugee/humanitarian simulation)

Next year we will continue efforts to promote greater diversity among participants. One-quarter of the participants were women (better than most Connections conferences in the US, UK, and elsewhere), but only one of the presenters was. We would also like to see more colleagues working in digital game studies. medical and emergency management simulation, and other related fields. We will also have to decide whether to cap attendance at 75, or book a larger room for next time.

Professional colleagues commented very favourably on the opportunity to network with colleagues and hear new perspectives, while students were very positive about the opportunity to interact with professionals who use serious games in their work. My own POLI 422 students also had an opportunity to discuss their various game projects with expert designer, both during the conference and thereafter.

The following day, many of the participants stayed around for a rather less serious activity: defending Canada from zombie hordes in APOCALYPSE NORTH, the fourth annual McGill megagame. That, however, will be the subject of another PAXsims report.

On a final note: if you are involved in professional wargaming, conflict simulation, and other serious gaming in Canada, you can always join the CONNECTIONS NORTH email list.

Simulation & Gaming (February 2019)

On Thin Ice: An Arctic matrix game

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PAXsims is pleased to make available On Thin Ice, a print-and-play matrix game of geopolitical and economic rivalry and cooperation in the Arctic. The game was developed by COL Jerry Hall and Dr. Dawn Alexandrea Berry.

On Thin Ice is a Matrix Game designed to introduce seven or more players to the Arctic region, its major actors, and its most important dynamics in a four-round game over the course of three hours.

While climate change is the underlying reason for the game, it is the effects of climate change that are revealed through gameplay. In particular, On Thin Ice highlights the complex interactions between local populations, national governments, and multinational corporations in the region. In so doing, On Thin Ice enables players to not only learn more about regional dynamics in the Arctic, but to experience how moments of crisis impact global geopolitics and security in a tangible way.

The game is structured to demonstrate the complex regional, national, and transnational dynamics in the Arctic. The most important of these are climate change, geopolitics, resources, and development. The effects of climate change are the underlying reason for the game; the Arctic is changing and how the major actors react to that change is the core problem the players need to address. Climate change is represented through a series of preformatted Climate Change cards the Facilitator uses to describe the changing environmental conditions in the Arctic throughout the game. On Thin Ice is not solely a climate change game, although the Facilitator could use it as such.

The geopolitics of the region are modeled through the game design player selection. In general, for the past decade there has been a consensus amongst Arctic states that it is a “zone of cooperation.” However, the rise of China as nascent superpower with global ambitions and a re- emerging Russia are changing the dynamic of the region.

The major actors represented in the game (either as player countries or through game design) are the “Arctic Eight” (including Greenland), and China. The game also represents a number of Arctic indigenous peoples (outlined below). The game is framed by The Arctic Council – the leading intergovernmental forum promoting cooperation, coordination, and interaction among the Arctic states. Although notably the Arctic Council is not a security forum, broader geopolitics and security concerns often impact the Council and its membership.

The game files are available for download as pdfs:

On Thin Ice Rules v4 (dragged) 2

 

Brazilian National Meeting of Wargames – ItaipaWars – 2019

The following report has been provided for PAXsims by Professor Heraldo Makrakis of the Técnico e Superior Instituto Federal de Educação, Ciência e Tecnologia do Rio Grande do Sul (Campus Canoas).


 

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On February 01, 02 and 03rd, 2019 the 3rd annual National Meeting of Wargames – ItaipaWars took place at the Convention Center General Ayrosa of the Brazilian Army,  located in the pleasant mountainous region of Rio de Janeiro in Itaipava.

Brazil2The objective of this Education and Public Outreach of the Federal Institute of Education, Science and Technology of Rio Grande do Sul – Campus Canoas (IFRS Campus Canoas) was the diffusion of science and technology through the practice of wargames in the general public interested in matters related to international strategic studies, defense studies and military science, integrating diverse publics: military institutions, militaria and academic and polytechnic institutions.

Participating in the organization of the event were retired Brazilian Army Colonel (military systems engineer) and current Professor at IFRS- Campus Canoas,  Heraldo Makrakis and Colonel (retired in service) Gerson Vallle Monteiro Júnior.

The event was co-hosted by the Strategic Studies Workshop of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (OEE UFRGS) ,the Center for Strategic Studies of the Southern Military Command (NEE CMS), and the Somniun Militaria Club.

Among the 15 participants should be highlighted the international participation of the young political scientist and wargames analyst, Maciej Sarnacki from Poland.

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The reception.

The schedule was developed through workshops lasting four hours exploring various themes and gameplay mechanisms such as: hex and counter, card drive games, COIN, euro-boardgames, etc.

Among the available wargames available for review by participants was the project Geopolitics. Also relevant is the play of War in the Pampas of Somniun Clube and the playtest of the scenario Battle of Tuyuti 1866 (Battle Cry) used in the Workshops of Strategic Studies of UFRGS—all Brazilian designs.

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At the closing session a workshop was held with a lecture on “Research Projects and Education and Public Outreach in Inferential Simulation Games” and a debate on the proposal for the realization of a Connections South conference for 2020 in Brazil.

The wargames played at the conference were:

A happy AFTERSHOCK(s) ending

I’m happy to report that the Great AFTERSHOCK Kerfuffle has now been suitably resolved.

Stephen Buonocore of Stronghold Games and I have spoken and discussed the issue. He has offered a name change/modification, which will settle the issue and make both of us happy. Neither of us want to see any harm done to the other, and we are pleased that the situation has now been resolved.

Also, many thanks to the various folks here at the blog, Facebook, Twitter, BoardGameGeek, and Reddit for various thoughtful comments and suggestions on the issue.

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AFTERSHOCK(s)

This issue has now been resolved! For game historians amongst you, the now-ancient history is below


Recently Stronghold Games launched a new game project on Kickstarter, Aftershock.

In Aftershock, players will spend money to acquire planning cards, which are used to increase population, build bridges, and determine where aftershocks occur. Spend money wisely to acquire aftershocks that will allow you to move people into and out of the demolished areas. Planning and careful negotiation are essential in order to maintain your population and score your best-planned cities and bridges.

Since PAXsims published a game called AFTERSHOCK in 2015, this caused some considerable confusion. We received multiple queries—via the blog, Twitter, email, discussion forums, and even in person—asking if the new game was somehow a newer or updated version of our original game. It’s not.

The new Aftershock (by Bobby West and veteran game designer Alan R. Moon) is an earthquake-themed Eurogame. You actually cause earthquakes in this game.

The original AFTERSHOCK is a serious (but enjoyable!) game designed to teach about humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. It has been used for training humanitarian aid workers, medical students, UN peacekeepers, and military personnel. We have run games for the US State Department, USAID, the Department of National Defence, the UK Ministry of Defence, and others, and it was a featured game at the Military Operations Research Society’s wargaming conference and the recent Serious Games Forum in Paris. The original AFTERSHOCK is also a non-profit fundraiser for frontline UN humanitarian agencies who respond to actual earthquakes and other humanitarian emergencies.

When we became aware of the name duplication, we reached out to the publishers. They  sent us a two sentence reply noting that “unfortunately, sometimes names overlap slightly in board games.” This is true, of course. There is another Aftershock out there as well, but that’s a terrain-building tavern game that no one would ever confuse with a game about earthquake response. In the case of the new Aftershock, however, the box font and theme are sufficiently close that there is already confusion.

We wrote back, suggesting that if it was too late to change their title, perhaps we could find a win-win solution—they might mention the existence of our game (to avoid confusion), and we would be happy to do the same. Perhaps they could even help publicize material on actual disaster relief operations. After all, our sales (in the hundreds, for a serious game with a particular niche) are hardly a threat to Stronghold Games (who will be hoping for sales in the tens of thousands). When they tweeted about their launch on Twitter, we issued a polite clarification.

 

Then it got weird. They blocked us on Twitter, and they blocked most everyone else who pointed out that these were different games.

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Let’s be clear here, we’re not accusing them of nefarious motives. We absolutely accept that they failed to check and accidentally launched a game with a similar title. We recognize that they have a legal right to do this. We’re not demanding anything of them. However, an issue that could have been resolved in a few minutes has been blown up to the point that others are now discussing it on their blogs or posting about it in discussion forums. Given that our little non-threatening, non-profit project is designed to train people who actually save lives in humanitarian disasters, and raises money for disaster-affected populations in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, we would be sad if some cooperative, mutually-beneficial solution couldn’t be found. We’re also worried that actual humanitarian providers will find the wrong game when they search, and miss an opportunity to enhance their professional training.

However, we are also (as Brant Guillory recently pointed out on Twitter) Canadians, and hence are required by federal law to be stereotypically polite. On that note, rather than inject rancour into this unfortunate affair, we have decided to produce a special commemorative (original) AFTERSHOCK event card to mark the launch of the (new, not ours) Aftershock. You can download the pdf , and print this at home, either assembling it as shown below or simply pasting the text section onto one of the blank cards included in (original) AFTERSHOCK.

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Long may your simulated humanitarian responses be coordinated and effective!


Unknown

Stronghold games has now cancelled the Kickstarter. The following email was apparently sent out to backers:

As you may have been notified, we’ve decided to cancel the Aftershock Kickstarter campaign…for now.

So what next?

While the campaign funded, the Deluxe Edition upgrades (and their associated costs) weren’t resonating with as many people as we had hoped. We are going back to the drawing board – rethinking how to give Aftershock its best shot at doing well. Our next step could be a revised Kickstarter with different reward levels and perks for backers, or perhaps we just go straight to retail.

In either case, we’re still very excited about this game, and we’re 100% committed to bringing it to you. Thank you to every one of our amazing backers. We really appreciate you coming out and showing your support.

We’ll be sure to update everyone with our new plans once they’ve been finalized.

Thank you so much for your support,

Stephen Buonocore, President – Stronghold Games

There’s no mention of the naming issue in there. We certainly didn’t want to see a gaming project derailed—-the more games out on the market, the better! As we noted above, we think there are easy, cooperative, win-win solutions. Consequently, we will be reaching out to them (again) in the coming weeks in the hopes that we can become enthusiastic supporters of their future project relaunch.


One final comment, prompted by some of the increasingly heated language about this whole issue online. We’re not angry, just hoping for a cooperative solution—after all, some of us do peacebuilding for a living. You shouldn’t be angry either. Keep any discussion positive, respectful, and constructive!

Indeed, rather than see this descend into a personal debate, might we suggest that we all donate a little something to the World Fund Programme (the primary beneficiary of funds raised by AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game). WFP is the UN agency which provides emergency food supplies to millions of people around the world affected by natural disaster, war, and famine. We’ve just donated $100 (PayPal transaction ID 5YF57680T3388715F) in the hopes that all the energy spent on angry words can be diverted to better things. Anyone else? Every little bit counts!

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Trouble in Paradise: a Micronesia matrix game

Micronesia cover.jpgCOL Jerry Hall has been kind enough to pass on to PAXsims his latest matrix game design, Trouble in Paradise (pdf).

[Trouble in Paradise] is a Matrix Game designed to introduce players to the Micronesia region, its major actors, and its most important dynamics. An overview of Micronesia follows in the next section.

The major actors represented in the game (either as player countries or through game design) are the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), the US Territory of Guam, the Republic of Kiribati, the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), the Republic of Nauru, the Republic of Palau, Australia and New Zealand, China, Japan, Taiwan, and the United States.

The most important dynamic represented in the game is great and regional power influence competition at several levels. At the grand strategic level the United States and China arecompeting in the region in what some have called another “Great Game.” This competition isfueled by Micronesia’s strategic geographic location in the “second island chain,” China’s ever expanding Belt and Road Initiative, and the United States’ “rebalance” to the Pacific. There are several competitions at the regional level. China and Taiwan are competing over recognition; four countries in Micronesia still recognize Taiwan over China (Kiribati, Nauru, Palau and RMI). Australia is the largest aid donor in the region and has a vested interest in Micronesian security. Japan has historical, cultural and economic interests in the region as well. The Micronesian countries have their own internal issues that reduce their agency as the great powers compete over and in them. The majority of countries in the region have unique relationships with the United States: Guam is a US territory; CNMI is a US Commonwealth; and FSM, Palau and RMI are independent countries thathave “Compacts of Free Association” with the US. A final wildcard is the separatist movement inthe FSM state of Chuuk (formerly Truk).

Influence is represented by markers placed on the map in each country and FSM state; each country or state has a graphic divided into sectors representing the Government, the People, the Economy and any Government Opposition. Players gain or lose influence markers during the gamethrough their actions; either limited recurring actions (“Turn 0” activities) or discrete and morepowerful actions using of the Instruments of National Power (Diplomatic, Information, Military andEconomic, or “DIME”).

You’ll find everything you need to play at the link above.

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McGill gaming (Winter 2019 edition)

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The view from outside the Education Building today, where POLI 450 meets.

This time of the year is always a busy one for gaming activities at McGill University—so busy, in fact, that I’ve been a little remiss in updating PAXsims with all of our goings-on.

I teach two courses with a significant gaming components during the Winter term. POLI 450 is a course on peacebuilding, exploring topics ranging from forced displacement and humanitarian assistance through to negotiation, peacekeeping and stabilization operations, DDR (demobilization/disarmament/reintegration of ex-combatants), reconstruction, coordination, transitional justice, and a host of other issues. There are 87 students in the class, plus another six in the POLI 650 graduate seminar. Over the term they will experience a few short, in-class simulations, an optional tournament of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game, and the massive, week-long “Brynania” peace operations simulation in late March/early April.

POLI 422 is a “selected topics” course on conflict simulation design with 31 students. This is the first time I’ve taught a full lecture course on the topic, although last year I did teach a very successful seminar on conflict simulation and a shorter professional course on serious games (at Carleton University), and a few students have previously undertaken independent studies courses with me that involved game designs on topics such as the Arab Spring and Syrian civil war. Moving forward this will be a regular course, taught annually at McGill from now as POLI 452.

Lectures so far have focused on the history of wargaming, the principles of serious game design, and modelling conflict through game systems. The course text is Phil Sabin’s book Simulating War, developed from his experience teaching a graduate wargaming course at King’s College London.

Students were also asked to come up with game proposals. Ten students chose to make a pitch, on topics ranging from Chinese-Vietnamese naval conflict to counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. Dr. Ben Taylor from Defence Research and Development Canada joined the class on presentation day to help assess them all, and in the end six were chosen as our projects for the year:

  • Fallen Republic (stabilization operations in a future collapsed North Korea)
  • Cartel (Mexican drug cartels)
  • Conquering the North Pole (Arctic cooperation and conflict)
  • Little Green Men (Russian interference in Ukraine)
  • Operation Breakpoint (impact of new and emerging technologies on asymmetric warfare)
  • Collateral (intelligence collection and high value targeting)

The various team leaders then formed groups of five students to work on each project. I’m quite pleased with the way we did this. First, students were each asked to fill out a “game design CV” detailing their areas of expertise and interest (gaming experience, graphic arts skills, research and documentation, rules-editing). Team leaders were then given a copy of these CVs, plus $1 million in fictional “game designer dollars.” Each team leader made secret bids for those they wished to recruit to her or his team. Unclaimed students were assigned by me based on skills and interests. No one was informed how much they had attracted in bids, of course—I didn’t want anyone to feel bad if they hadn’t been bid on. The result is that the teams each seem to include an appropriate mix of skills, and most people ended up in a project they wanted to work on.

Ben will be coming back to the class on February, to offer advice on game design, and then will help pick the winner of an informal DRDC design award for the best design at the end of the term.

In addition to class lectures, POLI 422 also features a series of optional games and other course activities through the term that contribute to course participation grades.

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1812: Invasion of Canada is a very good introduction to wargaming for neophytes: it is easy to play, does a nice job of illustrating the general contours of the conflict, and is an effective introduction to both area movement and card-driven mechanics. We Are Coming, Nineveh is a block game first developed by my students last year, examining the 2017 liberation of West Mosul by Iraqi security forces. Not only is it a terrific game (and one that will be commercially published), but because it was a student design it is a real inspiration to other students. The STRIKE! Battlegroup Tactical Wargame is in the mix because it is both a very straightforward hex-and-chit tactical game, and also because it was developed by serious folks at Dstl for serious training applications in the British Army. Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001-? is used to demonstrate card-driven political-military games, and Urban Operations is another tactical game that features mixed hex/area movement as well as some modelling of 3 dimensional urban terrain. Black Orchestraa is included because I think it is a really beautifully-designed cooperative design, while ISIS Crisis and A Reckoning of Vultures help to demonstrate matrix games. Students can also gain activity credits for playing certain digital games, attending certain events, or organizing their own gaming sessions.

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1812: Invasion of Canada

Speaking of We Are Coming, Nineveh, it is 99% done, including the solitaire system. The latter allows a single player to play against Daesh, with the actions of the latter determined by a card draw. We continue to do more playtesting, but this really only results in slight tweaks of cards and rules for clarity. We were especially pleased to learn last month that, along with a number of previously published commercial games, Nineveh will be examined as part of a Dstl-supported project on modelling urban warfare.

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We Are Coming, Nineveh!

Part of the reason things are so busy at the moment is because we have the Connections North (serious) wargaming conference coming up on Saturday, February 16. It looks like we’ll have about sixty people attending Connections North, about one-third professionals and two-thirds university students (including a group coming up to Montreal from Tufts University).

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The following day, on February 17, about a hundred of us will be engaged in some rather less serious wargaming: the APOCALYPSE NORTH megagame. While the zombie Armageddon isn’t a terribly plausible national security threat, the actual game is a pretty solid emergency management simulation, which models pretty much every Canadian Forces regular and reserve component in southern Ontario and Quebec, as well as emergency services and other relevant assets. The federal-provincial politics of it all should also be fun, and rather distinctly Canadian. If all goes according to plan—and it might not, since it depends on IT and AV things working as they should on the day—we should even have a (simulated) CBC television studio live-streaming reports to the players and beyond.

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In early March, I’ll be joining fellow PAXsims editor Major Tom Mouat (Defence Academy of the UK) in Norfolk, Virginia for a week, as we will co-teach a wargaming course at NATO Allied Command Transformation. You will get a PAXsims report on that after the week is done, of course.

Late March will see me tied up in the recurrent civil war in Brynania, reading 10,000+ emails, and monitoring dozens of simultaneous chatrooms and Twitter. After that comes the end of term in mid-April, along with final exams—and game projects—to grade.

 

 

CNA Talks: How to make a wargame

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The latest edition of CNA’s podcast series features Jeremy Sepinsky discussing “how to make a wargame.”

In part one of our occasional series on wargaming, Don Boroughs sits down with CNA’s lead wargame designer Jeremy Sepinsky to discuss what it takes to create a CNA wargame. Jeremy describes CNA’s games as bespoke, informed, immersive and diverse, designed to solve very specific analytical problems. To illustrate this, Jeremy talks Don though a hypothetical wargame designed to determine whether the military should invest in an airborne laser. If you enjoy this episode, keep an eye out for part two of our series, in which Don and Jeremy will discuss what it’s like to play in a CNA wargame.

If you are interested in learning more about CNA wargaming program, please contact Jeremy Sepinsky at sepinskyj@cna.org. Go to www.cna.org/CNAtalks to learn more about the participants and listen to more CNA Talks episodes.

AFTERSHOCK “Deal of the Day” at The Game Crafter

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AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game is currently the “Deal of the Day” at The Game Crafter. You have only a few more hours to get it at 12% off the regular price!

KWN: Yuna Wong livestream today

The King’s Wargaming Network reminds us that Yuna Wong’s lecture on “Developing an Academic Discipline of Wargaming: Pathways, Possibilities and Pitfalls” will be live streamed today (16 January 2019) via YouTube.
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Lin-Greenberg: Drones, escalation, and experimental wargames

 

WoTRdrones.pngAt War on the Rocks, Erik Lin-Greenberg discusses what a series of experimental wargames reveal about drones and escalation risk. The finding: the loss of unmanned platforms presents less risk of escalation.

I developed an innovative approach to explore these dynamics: the experimental wargame. The method allows observers to compare nearly identical, simultaneous wargames — a set of control games, in which a factor of interest does not appear, and a set of treatment games, in which it does. In my experiment, all participants are exposed to the same aircraft shootdown scenario, but participants in treatment games are told the downed aircraft is a drone while those in control games are told it is manned. This allows policymakers to examine whether drones affect decision-making.

The experimental wargames revealed that the deployment of drones can actually contribute to lowerlevels of escalation and greater crisis stability than the deployment of manned assets. These findings help explain how drones affect stability by shedding light on escalation dynamics after an initial drone deployment, something that few existing studies on drones have addressed.

My findings build upon existing research on the low barrier to drone deployment by suggesting that, once conflict has begun, states may find drones useful for limiting escalation. Indeed, states can take action using or against drones without risking significant escalation. The results should ease concerns of drone pessimists and offer valuable insights to policymakers about drones’ effects on conflict dynamics. More broadly, experimental wargaming offers a novel approach to generating insights about national security decision-making that can be used to inform military planning and policy development.

You will find a longer and more detailed account of the study here.

This is a good example of using multiple wargames as an experimental method. Above and beyond this, it also shows how that wargames can generate questions worthy of further investigation.

More specifically, while the loss of a drone is less escalatory, an actor might be more likely to introduce a drone for this reason—possibly deploying one in a situation where they would not have risked a manned platform. If this is true, however, drones may still prove more escalatory overall. In other words, if the wargame is expanded to include the prior decision to deploy assets in the first place, the actual outcome might have been something like this:

  • Blue scenario 1: Deploy manned platform?
    • No, too risky.
    • No platform deployed.
    • Nothing shot down.
    • Result: No escalation.
  • Blue scenario 2: Deploy drone?
    • Yes, because no pilot at risk.
    • Drone shot down.
    • Result: Minor escalation.

Or, with regard to another situation—perhaps local air defences would have been reluctant to engage a manned aircraft because of the evident risk of escalation, but would happily shoot down a drone. In this case the experimental findings might have been:

  • Red scenario 1: Shoot down aircraft?
    • No, too risky.
    • Nothing shot down.
    • Result: No escalation.
  • Red scenario 2: Shoot down drone?
    • Yes, because no pilot at risk.
    • Drone shot down.
    • Result: Minor escalation.

In fact, if you read the full paper you will see this is exactly what occurred in a scenario involving a  shoot-down decision: participants were much more likely to use force against an unmanned drone.

In other words, while the study suggests that drones might reduce the chance of escalation, it also suggests that we also need to investigate whether the lower perceived risk of drone-related escalation might cause Blue to undertake more provocative overflights, or might lead Red to undertake more potentially escalatory shoot-downs.

Figure 1 below shows the main experiment: aircraft shoot-downs lead to major escalations, drone shoot-downs to minor escalation.

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Figure 1: Experimental results suggest shoot-down of manned aircraft results in greater escalation.

Given the risk of escalation, however, decision-makers might decide against overflight in the first place.

Figure 2 examines a situation where no drones are available. It incorporates the possibility that decision-makers simply refrain from overflight because of the escalation risk, and assigns a (plausible but entirely made-up) probability to this. Moreover, knowing that a shoot-down of a manned aircraft is likely to cause escalation—a tendency noted by Lin-Greenberg’s other experiment—perhaps Red won’t actually open fire. Again, I have assigned a (plausible) probability to this. These numbers are just for the purposes of illustration, but here we note that with manned overflight as the only option there is a 16% chance of escalation.

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Figure 2: Considering other decision points. Should Blue even send an aircraft, given risk of escalation? Should Red engage it, given the risks?

In this fuller model, now let us introduce drones (Figure 3). Given that they are less likely to cause escalation, let us assume that (1) Blue is likely to prefer them over a manned ISR platform, (as per earlier findings) (2) Red is more likely to shoot them down, and that (3) shooting down a drone causes minor rather than major escalation. Once again, I’ve assigned some plausible probabilities for the purposes of illustration.

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Figure: Adding drones to the mix.

When we add drones into the mix, the risk of major escalation drops from 16% to 4%, but, the risk of some form of escalation actually increases to 60%.  Does this mean that drones have actually limited the risk of escalation, or increased it? Moreover, it is possible that tit-for-tat minor escalation over drone shoot-downs could grow over time to major escalation. If that were the case, it is possible that drones—rather than limiting conflict—are a sort of easy-to-use “gateway drug” to more serious problems.

Remember that I’ve essentially invented all of my probabilities to make a methodological point (although I have tried to make them plausible). My point here is not in any way to criticize Lin-Greenberg’s experimental findings—I suspect he is right. It is to say that the two sets of wargame experiments he undertook are useful not only for their immediate findings, but also to the extent that they generate additional questions to be investigated.

 

 

Rubel: Gaming the interface between strategy and operations

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At the Center for International Maritime Security website, Robert “Barney” Rubel is offering his thoughts on gaming the interface between strategy and operations:

Wargaming is ubiquitous throughout the U.S. Armed Forces as a tool for research, education, training, and influence. It is a flexible tool, adaptable to different scenarios, purposes, and levels of war. It is in this last arena, levels of war, that gaming organizations and their sponsors can bump up against the limits of wargaming.

The inherent nature of wargaming requires delineation and focus in game objectives and design. A game to address all three levels of war, strategic, operational, and tactical, is simply not feasible, requiring too many players, too much money, and too much time. The normal approach is to pick a level of war to play, with the other levels being either scripted, managed by the control cell, or ignored altogether. Even when a game is designed to incorporate free play at two levels, some kind of pruning of factors – frequently time – must occur to make the game feasible within budget and schedule constraints. The net result is that a robust exploration of the relationships among the levels of war becomes a casualty, missing in action.

Among the consequences of this gap in gaming could be a failure of communication and coordination among policy, strategy, and operational decision-makers, such as occurred in Vietnam and Iraq. This series will discuss the nature of this gaming gap and will offer some suggestions for closing it.

In Part 1 he discusses the problematic nature of the gap in policy-making and military operations. In Part 2, he focuses on combining strategy and operations in wargames:

It is often the case that scenarios for operational-level wargames include a “road-to-war” section that offers a plausible narrative of how the crisis or an attack that starts the game came about. As routinely as such narratives are produced, their influence on the game tends to wane as the game proceeds. Players and umpires become immersed in operational moves and counter-moves. Moreover, the road-to-war narrative may lack sufficient discussion of factors that would be needed to power analyses or move assessments farther downstream in the game. The bottom line is that unless a game is designed such that it includes specific measures to examine the matter, the strategy/operations interface gets short shrift in current gaming practice.

Of course, no plan survives contact with the enemy, so inevitably, once a war starts, a strategy/operations feedback loop of some sort must be established. Such loops automatically raise the issue of the degree to which operations are subject to detailed management from Washington. In some cases, such as Vietnam, operations such as air strikes into North Vietnam were micromanaged from the White House. In others, such as Desert Storm, General Schwarzkopf went into cease fire negotiations with little in the way of guidance from the president. In between those extremes are any number of cases, such as Lincoln and Grant, in which we find a good balance of delegation and oversight.

At this point it should be mentioned that each level of war contains its own logic and its own set of imperatives. The fundamental purpose of each higher command echelon is to coordinate and support the staffs and units that report to it. However, there is also the inherent requirement for higher echelons to override or sub-optimize the logic of lower echelon operations. If tactical victory was all that mattered, operational-level staffs would not have to worry about harmonizing strategy and tactics and could only focus on coordinating the tactical units below them. Similarly, if operational logic governed things once war broke out – a view that was widely held in earlier times – then political oversight would be unnecessary and likely counter-productive. The point is that there frequently arises occasions in which higher commands must impose guidance on lower level forces that exposes them to higher risk or reins them in somehow in order to protect or achieve higher level objectives.

 

Dstl needs you!

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…well, they do if you’re a UK national with expertise in wargaming.

The UK MOD’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory is looking for five people to join their wargaming team:

  1. 1614750 Wargame & Computer Simulation Analyst(x2)
  2. 1614762 Senior Wargaming Analyst(x1)
  3. 1614765 Wargaming Analyst(x1)
  4. 1614740 Principal Historical Analyst(x1)

These job opportunities are open to UK nationals onlyand are not open to candidates who hold a dual nationality. The closing date for applications is Sunday, January 20.

Details at the links above. For more on what the Dstl wargaming team does, see this and this and this and this and this. You may even get a Dstl Portsdown West wargaming mug out of it!

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Jensen: Wargaming the Future

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At War on the Rocks this week there is an excellent piece by Benjamin Jensen entitled “Welcome to Fight Club: Wargaming the Future” in which he explores the use of competitive wargaming to explore the impact of new technologies and capabilities on the battlefield.

…since 2015 the Marine Corps University and Marine Corps Warfighting Lab have used a special series of wargames to reimagine amphibious operations for the 21st century. In this initiative, dubbed “Fight Club,” students from the Command and Staff College work with groups ranging from DARPA to the Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities at the Potomac Institute to stress-test capstone Marine Corps concepts associated with amphibious operations. The results of these games have produced four major lessons-learned studies on topics like manned-unmanned teaming and narrow artificial intelligence applications.

Fight Club splits the students into competing sides and asks the groups to develop a plan and fight against each other in multiple iterations, including redoing the exercise as a controlled experiment by adding a new capability or concept. For example, one team might try an amphibious assault with current force structure and equipment and then retry it with future capabilities, such as the use of swarms to reduce risk and compound shock and dislocation. Having military professionals fight each other in secure environments and allowing for controlled excursions allows them to imagine future war and think through the concepts, capabilities, and organizations required to maintain a competitive edge.

There are four aspects of Fight Club that make it unique. First, all games are competitive and involve teams fighting other teams. There is a big difference between fighting an algorithm or scenario and fighting another human being. Fighting other people highlights fog, friction, uncertainty, and how new technologies risk compounding their effects.

Second, the games are designed using social science methods to analyze the difference between control and treatment groups. That is, participants start with a baseline game that involves current capabilities, and then another group fights with new capabilities. This allows the designers to assess the utility of new concepts and capabilities like manned-unmanned, teaming, deception, and various technologies associated with swarming.

Third, unlike many large Department of Defense wargames, the participants in Fight Club are top officers with recent operational experience. Instead of combing the Pentagon to find random bodies or relying solely on retired officers-turned-contractors, the effort targets field-grade officers in professional military education programs or military fellowships.

Fourth, the games involve creative combinations of seminar-style and computer-based adjudication methods. Through seminar-style components, wargame designers capture participants’ novel ideas and insights. Through low-cost but high-fidelity computer-based adjudication, including the Joint Warfare Adjudication Model developed by the Center for Army Analysis and commercial games, the game designers generate the data they need to better analyze the results, test assumptions, and rerun portions of the game.

It’s a very useful account of how competitive and repetitive gaming can be used to generate potential insight. Of course, one cannot draw any firm conclusions with an experiment where n=1 or n=2 (that is, a small number of games for any one set of experimental conditions), but one can generate questions and issues that deserve further thinking about and investigation. Good wargaming, after all, is about the cycle of research, and can be a useful part of triangulation in mixed-methods analysis.

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