PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

McGill gaming update

Previous McGill gaming updates for the Winter 2018 term can be found here (March 22) and here (February 3).


The regular school term at McGill University ended on Monday, and final exams are just starting. At the moment I am in the process of grading ninety or so student debriefs from our recent week-long (April 4-11) peacebuilding simulation in POLI 450/650. They are always interesting to read, encourage students to reflect on the simulation experience, and often contain insights from the game that had not otherwise occurred to me.

This year’s conflict in Equatorial Cyberspace saw months of tortuous negotiations between the government of Brynania and the Popular Front of the Liberation of Zaharia, finally resulting in a ceasefire and agreement on principles for a future peace deal. A small United Nations peacekeeping/observer mission, composed of Ethiopian, Indian, Canadian, and German personnel, was deployed to monitor and support the ceasefire at the most critical flash-point, the contested southern port city of Mcgilldishu. In the north, a ceasefire was also agreed with the diamond-smuggling warlords of the self-styled “Free People’s Army.” Elsewhere in the country, however, conflict continued: in the south, the radical Zaharian People’s Front conducted a series of successful hit-and-run guerilla attacks against government forces near Diku, while the western city of Aiku was seized by Icasian paramilitaries. A bloody, urban-type fight to recapture it followed, looking very much like the recent  Iraqi campaign to liberate Mosul.

SIM2018peaceagreement.jpg

The government of Brynania and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Zaharia sign a peace agreement. Left to right: brutal defence minister, genocidal dictator, nice lady from the UN, scheming insurgent, ruthless guerilla.

The result—a ceasefire and preliminary peace agreement, supported by a UN force—has been the most common outcome we have seen over the 17 years I have been running the peacebuilding simulation at McGill, although certainly not the only one. Military casualties were the highest yet, however, due to the intense fighting around Aiku and with the ZPF. Civilian casualties were also very high, with the aid community slow to respond to the complex humanitarian crisis in the south.

Slide04Slide03

More than two hundred thousand refugees fled the area during the seven months the simulation covered, although the United Nations High Commission for Refugees did well in addressing their immediate needs—inspired, perhaps, by a real message of support sent by the actual High Commissioner of UNHCR at the start of the simulation (thanks again, Filippo!).

GrandiSIM.png

Students and CONTROL alike were active on Twitter throughout—sometimes seriously, sometimes less so. One of the nice things about running this game in a university setting is that the participants can be very witting in their public statements (and Titter trash-talk), without in anyway distorting the fundamental dynamics of game or undermining the learning experience.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Brynania simulation is something of a labour of love: it took up around 18 hours a day of my time for a full week, during which I read or sent 6,438 simulation emails and simultaneously monitored 118 Facebook or other online messaging forums/chats—plus Twitter. You will find a couple of video documentaries on Brynania SIMs here and here.

My POLI 490 seminar in conflict simulation has also wrapped up, although the game projects are not due until the end of the month. The seminar this year was a practice run for a full class I’ll be teaching on the topic next year, and one thing I have learned is to add some graded milestone reports to the evaluation schema to make sure that each of the design teams gets a prompt start on developing a physical game prototype and playtesting it.

This year, there are three teams, one working on a game of the Darfur conflict, another developing a semi-cooperative game focusing on China’s One Belt One Road economic initiative, and a third exploring Iraqi military operations against ISIS in west Mosul in 2017.

current_board.png

The game board for One Belt One Road.

Yesterday I was involved in a playtest of the Mosul project (“We Are Coming, Nineveh”). It is simple and elegant to play, but there is a lot built into the game design:

  • pre-game planning and capability investments (especially for ISIS, which needs to decide how to defend the city before the Iraqi assault)
  • fog-of-war via blocks and dummy counters
  • area movement that coincides with actual neighbourhoods and street grids
  • terrain types (open, urban, Old City) with effects on combat, and major thoroughfares (which allow for more rapid movement if cleared of enemy forces)
  • IEDs and VBIEDS
  • coalition UAVs (and ISIS modified quadricopters)
  • snipers
  • artillery and air support
  • bunkers and fortifications
  • tunnels
  • command and control issues, including coordination difficulties between different Iraqi units and organizations
  • combined arms
  • hastily-trained ISIS recruits and child soldiers
  • information operations, propaganda, and public opinion
  • civilian casualties/collateral damage

We will see how they all pull it together when it is finished—as they are finding out, there is a lot of detail to be ironed out before a game concept becomes a polished, final reality.

IMG_9552.jpg

Playtesting We Are Coming, Nineveh. At McGill University, our conflict simulation course teaches the pointing skills so essential to serious wargaming.

IMG_9550.jpg

Advancing forces of the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Services towards the IED-strewn alleys of the Old City.

At our final POLI 490 seminar meeting last week, we explored the issue of “in-stride adjudication”—an issue that will be examined in detail at this summer’s Connections US professional wargaming conference in Washington, DC. Since the students have acquired considerable experience this term participating in games with some degree of in-stride adjudication (Brynania is primarily adjudicated that way; February’s DIRE STRAITS megagame involved large doses of it, and they’ve all played in matrix games that often involve a subtle sort of in-stride adjudication by the game facilitator) I thought it would be useful to get player perspectives on the issue. It turned out to be an excellent discussion, and one of the students has offered to write it all up as a white paper for the Connections conference.

Now, back to grading papers!

 

High North matrix game

High North cover.jpgTim Price has produced a matrix game exploring economic and military competition and cooperation in the Arctic: HIGH NORTH (pdf).

Climate change is the principal driver of change in the Arctic, with increasing temperatures and precipitation. As Arctic and Antarctic sea ice retreats, many areas that are currently inaccessible could become open to commercial exploitation, particularly of oil and gas. It is possible that some countries – depending on their internal politics – may seek to project power in the Arctic if they consider their interests in the region to be under threat.

You’ll find a description of the issues and situation, simple instructions on how to run a matrix game, and briefings for six players: Russia (political), Russia (military), Norway, the United States, China, the UK. There is also a map depicting the North, Norwegian, Greenland, and Barents Sea, plus the high Arctic.

High North.jpgThe game contains print-and-play counters for assets or effects, although you could also utilize materials in the Matrix Game Construction Kit (MaGCK). For more detailed matrix game rules and tips on designing or running one, the MaGCK User Guide is also available from The Game Crafter as a pdf download.

MaGCK.png

Looking at social media

Some thoughts on simulating social media from Tim Price, international man of mystery.


I recently wrote a review of Hostage Negotiator by A.J. Porfirio from Ran Ryder Games and speculated that it might be a useful point to start a discussion on a possible model for social media influence.

There is an understandable amount of interest in government and the military about the effect of social media, and a number of large multi-national defence companies that offer expensive products that propose to use “AI and machine learning” to generate synthetic social medial feeds to allow training to take place.

The only demo that I have seen involved chat-bots degenerating into the inevitable repetitious trolling from a bank of comments scraped from Russian fake social media accounts. It was utterly unconvincing and, when I put the question to Paul Rimmer, the Deputy Director of the UK’s Defence Intelligence organisation at a recent talk he gave in Oxford, he chuckled and said that if “I had £1 for every company that said AI and machine learning was going to solve my problems, I’d be very rich and wouldn’t be talking to you now…”.

My personal view is that if we can’t get Alexa, Siri or Cortana to lose their temper, then attempting to mimic social media through AI is a waste of time – after all, it is the manipulation of emotion and deeply held beliefs that create the effects people are trying to achieve.

Current training consists of scripted “social media” injects into events that are either trivial “box-ticking” exercises or at best short-term interventions that are deliberately limited in their effects so as to avoid upsetting things too much. It is necessary to have a proper discussion about the subject and avoid the rush to buy “shiny toys” simply because they have the words “social media, AI and machine learning” in the advertising brochure. There is a real danger that “social media” is the new “cyber” in the short attention span of some senior officers…

The quote from F.W. Lanchester is appropriate here ” “Simple models that provide useful insights are often to be preferred to models that get so close to the real world that the mysteries they intend to unravel are repeated in the model and remain mysteries.” (The Lanchester Legacy, Volume III, Chapter 9). Even if AI and machine learning were able to replicate social media feeds, their inability to explain why actions succeed or fail mean that they are still unlikely to be useful for training.

We should construct a simple manual model for social media, that can provide a relevant degree of help or harm to a “normal” military training game.  Preferably something stand-alone and scenario agnostic, that can be adapted to the circumstances.

There are some fundamental questions that we need to answer:

  • What measurable effects does social media have? (Brexit? Trump? ALS Research?)
  • What actions cause effects in social media? (Russian Bots? Policy speeches? Cat Memes?)
  • What actions can the Players take to affect social media? (Hire Cambridge Analytica? Bribe the Russians? Both?)

Hostage Negotiator, at it’s core, is a game about your interactions with a hostage taker. If things go badly, he gets more angry until he starts killing hostages, and if things go well he becomes more relaxed until he starts releasing hostages unharmed. As a player you have different gambits you can try, each with their own risk/reward outcomes and probabilities. You seek to calm the hostage taker down and build trust, enabling you to get access to more advanced gambits giving you a wider choice of actions. Each turn there are cards representing the passage of time and the effect this has on the hostage taker (usually making him more frustrated and angrier).

HostageNegotiator2.jpg

Assuming we take the track from Hostage Negotiator to represent the aggregated sentiment analysis directed to the players organisation and actions, we can look at a “sentiment tracker” below.

The assumptions are (for the moment) that sentiment in the green areas represent general support for the player (providing some advantage such as intelligence, warning of attack, donations to the cause, etc); while sentiment in the red areas represent the opposite (providing disadvantages for the player such as false reports, no warnings, and support for opposition groups). When the marker in in the “S” zone this represents significant Support for the player and in the “T” zone represents support for protests, violent clashes and Terrorism against the player, both of which would translate into concrete independent actions in the real world.

In addition, it is assumed that as the situation reaches the extremes of the tracker, it become correspondingly easier or harder to influence sentiment (represented by additional dice in the green zone and fewer dice in the red zone).

social media

The “Political Freedom Tracker” represents the degree of political support within the player’s organisation, so higher levels will provide access to more extreme (and possibly riskier) options expressed in the Social Media Action Cards.

The game starts with some negative event that the player is seeking to respond to. If they do nothing, the situation is likely to get worse (the equivalent of the “Terror” cards in the Hostage Negotiator game). The simplest way of doing this is by a “Sentiment Roll”, where they roll 1D6 and if the score is equal to or higher than the current sentiment, it gets worse by a point.

The player response can consist of one of several options, from the usual platitudes (“thoughts and prayers”) through stronger alternatives, such as “heartfelt denouncement by the Head of State”, to concrete action such as “legislative changes” or “direct action” by the police and military. Each option has a risk/reward matrix with high scores being beneficial and low scores representing failure, public anger, and a cost in “political freedom” to carry out.

The dice mechanism from Hostage Negotiator is to have a score of 5 or 6 on each dice as a success, a 3 or less being nothing, and a score of 4 requiring an investment of additional resources (reducing the players options in later turns). So, a roll of a 5 and 6 on 2D6 represent two successes; a roll of a 3 and a 6, one success and a roll or a 1 and a 3 represents failure.

An example card is: “Thoughts and Prayers”, where two successes gains the player +2 Political Freedom points (perhaps the speech was heartfelt and actual tears were caught on camera), a single success +1, and a failure triggers an additional Sentiment Roll because of the backlash. The card itself costs 0 Political Freedom Points.

Other example of 0 cost cards would be “internal enquiry”, “policy speech” or “divert attention elsewhere”. A “public enquiry” or “appoint a Task Force”, might have a cost of 1 or 2 Political Freedom points, but something such as a “Constitutional Amendment” would need at least 8 points.

Of course, the actions have to be appropriate to the level in which the game is set, be it nation state, military operation or local village council elections.

The player would start with a hand of 0 Political Freedom cost Social Media Action Cards and would attempt to defuse the situation with the usual political actions and, at the same time, build up support for riskier actions with a much greater direct effect if they succeed.

So – what next? This topic needs a wider discussion in a much broader audience than I currently have access to. Even a short examination of the subject reveals that this is difficult to model (which comes as no surprise whatsoever), so it will require a determined effort and imagination. Any suggestions would be very gratefully received.

Tim Price

Matrix gaming chaos: the Syria conflict

The following report was contributed by Anja van der Hulst (TNO) and Shai Ginsberg (Duke), with photos by Leo Ching (Duke). None of the opinions expressed here necessarily reflect those of TNO or Duke University.


 

ISIS was expelled from its strongholds in Mosul and Raqqa and for now has failed to establish a caliphate in Syria and Iraq, but has it been defeated? Will the struggle for the Afrin region open up opportunities for ISIS to re-emerge?

For the second time in five months, we have designed and played a matrix game, exploring the conflict in Syria, at the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Duke University.

Time and again, we are amazed by how powerful the matrix game format is.  The game format is surprisingly easy to explain, which allows us to get right into strategizing and debating outcomes. Also, the Syria conflict is fought with hybrid means: it is as much a war of narratives as of military combats; there is deception, diplomacy, political and economic means, and more.  Besides matrix games, there are very few formats that are both so easy to play and that enable the use of so diverse means, taking advantage of the full spectrum of DIMEFIL (Diplomatic, Information, Military, Economic, Financial, Intelligence and Law Enforcement).

Syria1

This is where the easy part ends. In preparation for the version of last week, we realized how much has changed. In October 2017, we named the game the “ISIS aftermath,” as ISIS was just expelled from its strongholds in Mosul and Raqqa and we wanted to explore the consequences of its recent defeats. The main question to be answered from this game was how would the parties engaged in the civil war in Syria respond to this development: Would ISIS rise again? Would it attempt to organize a terrorist campaign in Europe? Would there be a major power struggle with Al Qaida? And what about the Kurds, who had played such a major role in the defeat of ISIS? At the time, they just held their referendum for an independent Iraqi Kurdistan, and we wondered whether a century-long quest for an independent Kurdistan might finally succeed. We also felt the civil war was winding down somewhat, and thus, our final question was whether there could be a stabilisation of the situation in Syria.

Syria2

So much has changed in just five months, and the set of questions we posed last week was entirely different; we even had to rename of the game: we chose the unimaginative name, “the Syria conflict.” In the past 5 months, we have seen twists that have produced more complexity and even more chaos in the region. The Syria conflict was already a proxy war between Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia but it is turning more and more into a major power struggle. The U.S.- and Russia backed forces had a common enemy is ISIS, but with ISIS losing ground those actors appear to turn ever more against each other. Interestingly, the US-led coalition started training of a 30,000-strong, Kurdish-led border force in Syria, a move which Turkey said “it could never accept.” Conveniently, Russia removed its forces from the west Syrian Province of Afrin and thus allowed Turkey to attack the Kurds in Afrin. With Turkish forces gaining ground, the Kurds in East Syria and Iraq that were holding positions previously captured from ISIS are now moving to Afrin to support their fellow Kurds. As a result, the US-backed coalition will now be fighting fellow NATO member Turkey and now, as I write this, news comes in that ISIS gangs have began to reappear around many villages in east Syria.

But that wasn’t all, between Oct 2017 and March 2018, Iran became more assertive. Israel, which until now has before a rather low profile in this war (in the October version it was not even a playable actor), now had carried out a ‘major aerial attack’ in Syria, targeting 12 military sites, four of which were said to be Iranian. And just this past week, it finally took responsibility for the attack on the Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007, sending a clear message to Iran, Syria (and possibly Saudi Arabia) about its red lines. Neither side can be expected to back down.

Gaming Syria Oct 2017

Our starting point in the October version was that Assad was winning over rebel forces and ISIS had been marginalised. Back then, there seemed to be open roads that might lead to stabilisation of the current situation. However, our brilliant ISIS-playing syndicate managed to enhance chaos both in the Damascus region and along the Israeli-Syrian border: they kidnapped and murdered an Assad family member and attacked Israeli targets; an Israeli harsh response forced Assad’s counter-measures. In the game, Assad actually attacked Israel and became entangled in a new front, which gave ISIS some opportunities to rise again.

Syria3

Our ISIS player on Skype on her way to New York to cheerlead the Duke Blue Devils.

 

Gaming Syria March 2018

Syria4

Turkey trying to convince the US, all in vain.

In the March version, as said, we had a totally different starting point. In game, our Russia players worked hard to marginalize the US and EU presence and influence in the region and, ultimately had great success in asserting Russia’s position in its place as the key superpower and powerbroker between the warring parties. The US and the EU’s hesitant manoeuvring and reluctance to use military force—for instance, they backed down on the US support of Kurdish forces in Syria—played into Russia’s hand and made its task easier. In response Turkey, who initially tried to work with the US and the EU, switched its alliance and established much tighter relationship with Russia. Assad, Iran and Hizbollah likewise benefitted from the growing Russian presence in the region (though not to the extent one would imagine), while ISIS attempts to reassert itself all felt flat: its attempts to initiate a terrorist campaign, targeting both Assad and Iranian forces fell short. Ultimately, Russia and Turkey engineered a cease fire to be enforced by, among others, Russian forces on the ground and would formal and internationally legitimate continued Russian presence in Syria. Interestingly, the game made it patently clear to our students how complicated the position of the US-led coalition in Syria is. The Russian success in striking a ceasefire agreement, made US military intervention in Afrin unnecessary (and unwelcomed), solving the dicey issue of pitting US forces against their NATO ally Turkey. It also relieved Kurdish forces in Afrin; Kurdish forces in the East of Syria might now stay put, buttressing their positions against a re-emergent ISIS. Still, condoning an enlarged Russian presence in Syria might create a severe strategic disadvantage to the US in the Middle East.

Insights on learning

How well does gaming contribute to learning? If we wish to make students truly understand the dynamics in the Middle East, a number of insights on learning from such gaming sessions emerge. Students were engaged: it was obvious that they studied hard to master their own role as well as the interests of other players in a regional conflict so complex.  Given its complexity, we’re still amazed how well students manage to strategically act in the shoes of regional actors after just a couple of hours of going through background materials. The resulting debates were fierce and lively, and misconceptions were usually corrected by the group. There were also a lot of laughter, serving as yet another proof that they were both engaged and thoroughly enjoyed participating in such games.  As one of them remarked, “This is so cool, we get to play the real version of dungeons and dragons in class.”

 

Two aspects of the game demand additional consideration. First is that the more introvert students have a hard time participating fully. Roleplay and arguing relies partly on debating skills and here we see large differences in participation. One should remember, however, that matrix games is not only about debates: it also involves havey strategizing, which relies in turn on a deep understanding of the domain and the conflict. Besides improving debating skills, we might work on a division of labour where some students mostly strategize while others debate more. In the comprehensive approach game we played at McGill, syndicates had 4-5 people, and there such division of labour usually emerged.

Second is that the students who played the US and EU found it impossible to pursue tactics and strategies they deemed immoral. Whereas they were well aware of the history of the US military, political and economic engagement with the rest of the world (and in the case of these particular students, in Asia in particular), they still could not bring themselves to take actions that would cast a negative light on the US and its allies. Players who played other parties found it much easier to identify interest and pursue them with all means at their possession, questions of morality and ethics notwithstanding. It seems, then, that matrix games pose a particular problem if the players truly identify with the party they are playing.

Some final words: our own experience shows that games form one of the best tools we have in developing an understanding of the current regional dynamic. To do so requires good materials that expounds the interests of actors in the region, their historical ties and traumas. Still, the more one delves into the issue and the more one learns about the participant actors, the more difficult it is to actually comprehend the situation in general. The history of the region is made up of so many traumas, conflicting interests, shifting alliances, and radical changes in leadership. In particular, we (and players) are overwhelmed by the intensity of emotions and entrenchment in beliefs and ideologies. Next time, we’ll just game the tensions in the Korean region…

Insights on analytical value

Then, are such matrix games useful for analytical purposes? Does the game play have any predictive value?  First of all, we noticed many time that the argumentation within matrix games for analytical purposes improves substantially with true regional experts playing the roles.

In these sessions, I assume that the future courses of action we created at Duke were of little value for forecasting. Evidently, in the October version we hadn’t foreseen many of the events that happened in the past five months. Likewise, we do not hold our breath for the events played in the March version to ultimately unfold.

Two observations here:

  1. Lack of malice: We noticed a bias towards mostly “nice” actions on the part of students, such as negotiating ceasefires and alliances. They made this explicit: our students basically did not wish to risk killing people, which cannot be said for most of the current actors in the Middle East.  Although our students seemed to understand the actors and their interests, they refrained from turning truly Machiavellian. This made the courses of action insufficiently realistic for analytical purposes.  For conflict games to have realistic outcomes, we need the will to act against morality and received norms. We have there considered brainwashing our players…
  2. Lack of true future forward thinking: It is a feeling that in roleplaying into the future, we tend to stay very close to the present situation and the dynamics as we understand them, probably far too close. We are sort of linearly thinking into the future. For example, our experiences being that when e.g. gaming, 15 years into the future, one notices that our players tend to look e.g. at Russia as governed by a centralised autocratic regime. As illustrated by all those twists in Syria, in 15 years, a lot can (and will) happen. In 15 years, Russia may fall into utter chaos, disintegrate locally, or be divided between neighbouring countries, but no-one really envisions that in long term strategy-wargames.  We tend to work too much on the basis of our assumptions from today- and assume they will still hold true in the future. It requires a more advanced systems thinking approach to step back from the current situation and to identify and understand the sources of tensions, the polarities existent, and to work from there.  How to get there? We don’t know, but are convinced that we will have to work on improving the predictive value of the less kinetic conflict-games to support meaningful strategizing.

Still, the matrix games we played helped tremendously in educating students about the conflict, and in relatively short time.

To end this report, let us hope that in the next 6 months things take some turns for the better, and that we will not have to rename the next version of our Syria matrix game into “The Middle East War”.

Anja van der Hulst and Shai Ginsberg

 

Gaming at the CIA

ElChapo.png

Ars Technica has an update on the use of boardgames for analyst training at the Central Intelligence Agency:

Last year, the CIA used a South By Southwest festival event to reveal one of its weirdest training exercises: a series of globe-trotting, espionage-filled board games. If you’re wondering why we’re circling back to this news almost exactly one year later, we have four letters for you: FOIA.

A series of Freedom of Information Act requests, filed last June by Southern California tech entrepreneur Doug Palmer, finally bore fruit last week. The CIA has now released rules, art, and design documents for the two board games we played at last year’s SXSW.

If you’re wondering: yes, these documents include enough rules and materials to help budding CIA officers print and play their own versions of the game’s Collection Deckand Kingpin: The Hunt for El Chapo. Unfortunately, the released files don’t come close to printing-grade quality, owing both to low resolution and fax-grade 1-bit color. Ambitious board gaming fans will have to pick up the aesthetic slack themselves. (Here’s to hoping someone creates entries at BoardGameGeek to inspire such an effort. As of press time, no BGG entries for either game exist.)

You’ll find the full report, and some low-res images, here.

It is a subject which CIA educator and renowned commercial wargame designer Volko Ruhnke has talked about in other settings too. Here at PAXsims we have also covered the role that crisis simulations play in CIA outreach and recruitment effort.

h/t Aaron Brennan

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 24 March 2018

wordle24-318.png

PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) games that might be of interest to our readers. This issue contains a few items from earlier in the year that we forgot to include in previous editions.

PAXsims

180319-N-RX668-007.jpg

The US Naval War College reports that its students have been participating in beta-testing of an educational wargame of the WWII Battle of Leyte Gulf, developed by NWC staff.

“This game provided students with a chance to play as two teams in each of the two seminars, facing off as U.S. and Japanese commanders in the culminating naval battle of Leyte Gulf which took place during World War II,” said Johnson. “The goal of the game was to provide an opportunity for experiential learning regarding the fundamental concepts of operational art supporting operational warfare.”

The game was setup to be a two-sided, closed-intelligence or “two-room” game, where neither side could see the other’s battle force line up and must determine through the course of play where and what the opposing side was executing with its forces.

During the game, the students maneuvered air, sea and land forces against each other in accordance with an operational idea that they generated based on their studies of the historical battle. The other reason behind the learning game beta test is to see if JMO will include this in the curriculum for all NWC intermediate course students next year.

PAXsims

size0.jpg

In another example of in-house educational wargame design, staff at the US Army Command and General Staff College are testing out their own manual wargame:

The hex-style, map-based simulation, titled “Landpower: Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey (GAAT)” was developed last year by Lt. Col. Patrick Schoof, an Army Simulations officer, and Shane Perkins, team leader of four classes, both instructing at the staff college. “Landpower” builds upon a scenario the students have worked through continually during the course, putting their strategies against one another to expose potential gaps and shortfalls they had previously not accounted for.

“We put this through multiple tests, labs, and changes before bringing it to the classroom, as well as spending months collaborating with the Director of Simulation Education to ensure we were bringing a quality product that had the potential to meet our learning objectives,” said Perkins.

size0-1.jpg

They certainly seem to be honing their essential pointing skills.

PAXsims

According to Lt. Gen. Michael Lundy,  director of the Army Combined Arms Center, US Army wargaming remains significantly under-resourced with regard to conceptual experimentation:

Lundy stressed it is important to wear concepts out to better define requirements so that program managers can build better solutions. “I need battle labs to get good requirements,” he said.

Without the experimentation process, requirements can spiral out of control or be unrealistic.

PAXsims

Back in January, President Donald Trump lauded the sale of “F-52s” to Norway. However, as the Washington Post reported, there’s no such plane—except in the video game Call of Duty.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders did not return a request to comment on the issue and did not respond to a question asking whether Trump was a Call of Duty fan.

PAXsims

Underscoring the growing success of tabletop gaming as a hobby, the Atlantic published a piece in January that described the rise of Eurogames and their impact on the hobby.

In a development that would have been hard to imagine a generation ago, when video games were poised to take over living rooms, board games are thriving. Overall, the latest available data shows that U.S. sales grew by 28 percent between the spring of 2016 and the spring of 2017. Revenues are expected to rise at a similar rate into the early 2020s—largely, says one analyst, because the target audience “has changed from children to adults,” particularly younger ones.

Growth has also been particularly swift in the category of “hobby” board games, which comprises more sophisticated titles that are oriented toward older players—think Settlers of Catan. These games, compared to ones like Monopoly and Cards Against Humanity, represent a niche segment, but that segment is becoming something more than a niche: According to ICv2, a trade publication that covers board games, comic books, and other hobbyist products, sales of hobby board games in the U.S. and Canada increased from an estimated $75 million to $305 million between 2013 and 2016, the latest year for which data is available.

Hobby-game fanaticism is still very much a subculture, to be sure, but it is a growing one. At the 2017 iteration of Gen Con—North America’s largest hobby-gaming convention, in Indianapolis—turnstile attendance topped 200,000. For the first time in the event’s history, all the attendee badges were purchased before the event began. Whether they knew it or not, the many thousands of people carpeting the field level of Lucas Oil Stadium wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for a small group of obsessives on the other side of the Atlantic.

Meanwhile, at the Wall Street Journal they suggest some political and military-themed board games worth trying out (paywall).

PAXsims

Saudi Arabia will be holding first ever card playing competition last month. As al-Jazeera reported, the prohibition on gambling in Islamic law, and the strict Sunni fundamentalism of many Saudis, made the decision controversial. You’ll find additional reporting at Arab News.

This sensitivity is one that serious game designers need to take into account too: one NGO recently told me that they had been unable to use card-based training materials with Saudi participants, because some objected on religious grounds.

PAXsims

Can gaming help to improve forecasting ability? A recent study suggests that (video) gamers are better able to assess the probability of future events:

The debate over video gaming’s potential benefits is a divisive one. Yet despite the concerns of many, a significant body of research proves a correlation between playing video games and improved attention resources, problem solving, and response speed. Additionally, a recent study determined that playing action-based video games can positively affect a player’s probability categorizing skills.

In order to assess and understand gamers’ probabilistic skills, a group of researchers studied 15 participants who played action-based video games 15 or more hours a week and 15 participants who played less than 15 hours a week. The subjects participated in a Weather Prediction Task (WPT), where they were asked to identify a series of weather cue card combinations and make predictions based on probabilities they detected. The WPT contained a variety of prediction tasks, which required subjects to make educated guesses on outcomes where probability ranged anywhere from 80/20% to 60/40%. While the WPT was being performed, subjects were scanned in an MRI scanner to determine which parts of their brain were activated and in order to understand the types of memory processes at work.

The researchers found that gamers were notably better at making predictions, especially under conditions characterized by stronger uncertainty. For example while the gap between correct predictions in gamers and non-gamers was smaller in 80/20% conditions, the gap was much larger in 60/40% conditions. Additionally, brain imaging data showed there was a higher level of activity in the regions of gamers’ brains that relate to and strengthen memory, attentional processes, and cognitive control. A post-experiment questionnaire also showed that the video gamers had an increased ability to draw conclusions, despite existing uncertainties, because during the WPT they had retained more declarative knowledge about the card combinations and related weather outcomes.

You’ll find an overview of the research at New Learning Times, and the full study by Sabrina Schenk, Robert K. Lech, and Boris Suchan in Behavioural Brain Research 335 (September 2017).

PAXsims

dwtcoincover.gifThe remarkably prolific History of Wargaming Project has released another publication, this time a volume on Small Wars: New Perspectives on Wargaming Counter-Insurgency on the Tabletop by David Wayne Thomas. It features an introduction by renowned counterinsurgency wargame designer Brian Train, followed by six short sets of rules. These address tactical, but more so operational/campaign-level games, in contexts ranging from the colonial French Sahara, Ireland, and Vietnam to contemporary company-level counter-insurgency operations.

The volume is likely to be of more interest to hobby gamers looking for relatively simple rules with some innovative approaches and game mechanisms, rather than those using such games for professional (educational or analytical) purposes.

PAXsims

JDMS header

The latest issue of the Journal of Defense Modelling and Simulation is devoted to the topic of “Model-Driven Paradigms for Integrated Approaches to Cyber Defense.”

PAXsims

IOM_Logo_UN_blue_OIM-IOM.png

The International Organization for Migration recently conducted a crisis simulation in Niger, involving more than eight hundred members of local communities, authorities, civil society and security forces, as part of a broader capacity-building project.

Using a real-life scenario, the simulation exercise tested local and regional authorities’ abilities to respond to a mass migration movement into Niger precipitated by a crisis at the border. Based on the results of the exercise, a regional crisis contingency plan will be drafted in conjunction with authorities in Agadez.

Agadez is located in northern Niger, a region regularly affected by migration flows both in and out of the country. Over the last few decades, the movement of goods and persons has increased considerably in Niger, requiring improved structures for immigration and border management (IBM) to more effectively manage cross-border movements. As a result, the state has been confronted with the challenge of better facilitating these legitimate movements while maintaining secure borders.

IOM’s IBM unit has been active in Niger since 2015 and is implementing projects aiming to reinforce border management in the country and the Sahel region. Since then, more than 15,000 people have been reached through awareness-raising activities aimed at improving the dialogue between communities and authorities.

Through the creation of prevention committees along Niger’s borders, and the inclusion of local populations in simulation exercises and awareness campaigns, IOM includes border communities as full actors in border management.

Within this context, the simulation exercise sought to enhance community involvement in crisis management. Communities from the surrounding area played the roles of both displaced populations and welcoming community. The exercise incorporated a strong community engagement component to foster communication between local communities and authorities. As communities are the first to directly encounter signs of a crisis, communication with local authorities is crucial both in ensuring a quick and effective crisis response, as well as in preventing future crises.

At the end of the exercise, IOM distributed over 400 hygiene kits to participating community members, and will deliver six tents to be used in crisis management to the Agadez Governorate.

The simulation was part of the project Engaging Communities in Border Management in Niger – Phase II, funded by the US Department of State. This was the third exercise of its kind organized by IOM in Niger, which had held two exercises in the Zinder region in 2017. The simulation was planned in close partnership with the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Humanitarian Action and Natural Disaster Management and the Ministry of Health of Niger.

PAXsims

batten_pandemic_da_header_3-2.jpg

Students at the University of Virginia’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, and at fifteen other universities, recently addressed the challenges of epidemic response in a simulation. the simulation was organized by the Center for Leadership Simulation and Gaming.

Students on each three- to five-member team were assigned roles: prime minister, minister of public health, minister of finance, World Health Organization representative and a head of communications.

As a game clock ticked down on a computer screen in front of them, students were required to quickly process information.

Where was the virus spreading? How many fatalities were occurring?

If it was within their country’s budget, the students could purchase vaccinations. If it wasn’t, they could raise taxes in order to do so – though that would have an effect on their approval rating.

Everything was a giant balancing act.

And, with six months of global activity being compressed into four, one-hour rounds, everything was moving at warp speed.

“It was a good reminder that, in the heat of the moment, policy is complicated,” said Babbin, a first-year student in the Master of Public Policy program. “When we’re sitting in the classroom, it’s easy to say, ‘Oh, this is obviously the right choice.’ But when you’re sitting there and you have all of these things coming at you and you’re watching the number of infections rise, you really have to make snap decisions when you don’t always have all of the information that you wish you did.

“Sometimes you just have to make an educated decision.”

You’ll find more here.

PAXsims

Kennesaw State University conducted a simulation on the European mass migration crisis entitled “Refugees, Religions, and Resistance.”

The simulation placed graduate students, Ph.D. students, an undergraduate student and alumni in the shoes of real-world people that have a direct role in handling the refugee crisis.

“The intention in all of this is to help students both, one, learn information and, two, practice skills they will need in their professional lives,” said Dr. Sherrill Hayes, a professor of conflict management. “In the case of the Refugee Crisis in Europe simulation, it was important for students to understand the content of what is happening in Europe with migration and refugees since migration is one of the front and center issues in international conflict and peacebuilding.”

It was placed in the context of the fictional town of Waldbach, Germany, in the state of Saxony. Participants were given roles as a principal at the town’s school, mayoral candidates for competing parties, the local factory owner and refugees, among other roles — in total, 14 people participated.

The purpose of the simulation is “to develop an understanding of the complexities of global migration and, more specifically, the current refugee crisis in Europe.”

A series of sub-scenarios challenged the participants to strategically work together to achieve goals that were outlined in the descriptions of each “character.” Some scenarios included: finding a resolution to educating Syrian refugee children, a proposal to build a mosque, violence against the refugees and a food shortage in the refugee camp.

The “townspeople” and “refugees” were physically separated in different buildings at the Cherokee Outdoor YMCA, where the simulation was held, to add to the realistic element of separation.

You’ll find further information at The Sentinel.

PAXsims

RTP.png

The Reacting to the Past Consortium will be holding their Eighteenth Annual Faculty Institute on June 14-17 at Barnard College.

This year the Institute offers intensive workshops on twelve different games, as well as plenary and concurrent sessions that explore issues related to teaching and learning, faculty development, and the future of higher education more generally.

You’ll find more information at their website. The Consortium also has its usual series of regional conferences planned.

PAXsims

29243665_937755909717845_4020134842335412012_n.jpg

GridlockED is a boardgame of hospital emergency room management developed by Dr. Teresa Chan and a team at McMaster University.

Co-designed learning platform.

This game was co-designed with emergency medicine faculty and medical students. The goal was to create a game that could allow future doctors to learn systems approaches to patient management in a safe, low stakes environment.

Play together to save patients.

In GridlockED, players work together to treat and prioritize patients. This fosters collaboration and communication skills.

Make low stakes mistakes

This game allows players to grasp what a real emergency department (ED) is like, without the life-or-death stakes.

We were fortunate to work with Teresa early on in the development process during the Simnovate 2016 conference at McGill university, where Vince Carpini and myself ran a workshop on serious game design.

The Hamilton Spectator has further details, and their Facebook page is here. The game goes on sale on March 27.

McGill gaming update

IMG_9429

Looking forward to the eventual arrival of Spring at McGill.

At McGill University, the annual, week-long Brynania peacebuilding simulation is fast approaching. Most of the role assignments have been made, and materials will be distributed to members of my POLI 450 peacebuilding class on Monday. The actual simulation will run from April 4-11, and during that period I’ll pretty much vanish—I will be deep in the Brynania CONTROL bunker in suburban Montreal, fuelled by endless coffee as I monitor the activities of almost one hundred participants.

IMG_9366.jpg

Yes, Galasi (the capital of Carana) looks suspiciously like a remodeled Copenhagen.

Two weeks ago, I ran the “Crisis in Galasi” simulation at a conference on the urban dimensions of religious conflict organized by Prof. Mick Dumper (University of Exeter). This seemed to go well, with participants welcoming a break from the usual academic workshop process to periodically assume the roles of actors in a fictional scenario of rising religious and political tensions. The simulation saw sectarian rumours circulate on social media; a protest march that turned violent, with barricades, arrests, and mysterious gunfire; and splits between soft-liners and hard-liners in the cabinet, resulting in a political crisis and the formation of a new coalition government. At the end, there was some effort by local Catholic and Muslim officials to find a way forward that might be acceptable to all sides, but the situation remained fraught and fragile. The Matrix Game Construction Kit was used to support the simulation.

This Tuesday, I took part in a simulation run by the folks at the ICONS Project, examining corporate response to potential armed conflict in their area of operation. I can’t share the details, but the event seemed to go well.

Finally, my POLI 490 seminar on conflict simulation design continues to be a pleasure to teach. This month we’ve looked at the design of negotiation simulations (drawing upon Natasha Gill’s excellent book on the topic), as well as best and worst practices in professional wargaming (using the UK Ministry of Defence/DCDC Defence Wargaming Handbook for the former, and CNA’s 2004 study of wargaming pathologies for the latter). Students have played Islamic State: The Syria War, and Brian Train’s recently published game Chile ’73.  Next week we will look at matrix game design, and we’ll play through the Reckoning of Vultures scenario from the Matrix Game Construction Kit. Since this (like Chile ’73) is also a game about coup plotting with pre-coup and coup phases, it will provide an interesting opportunity to contrast the relative strengths and weaknesses of more rigid, rules-based approaches and more free-form techniques.

 

Review: Hostage Negotiator

The following review was contributed by the ever-mysterious Tim Price.


Hostage Negotiator. Game designer: A. J. Porfirio. Don’t Panic Games/Last Level/Van Ryder Games, 2015. USD $24.99

Hostage Negotiator is a single-player game involving cards and dice. The player plays the role of the Hostage Negotiator in a scenario where someone has taken hostages and is threatening to kill them unless their demands are met.

Hostage Negotiator1.png

The basic game mechanic is that you have a “Hostage Negotiator Tableau” on which there is a track representing the mental state of the Hostage Taker. This represents the threat level and, if the threat level is low, you get more opportunities to influence the Hostage Taker and perhaps get hostages released; or if the threat level is high, your chances of influencing the Hostage Taker reduce and the chances that he will kill a hostage increases. There are random “Terror” cards and “Pivotal Events” to add flavour and increase uncertainty.

The principal tactics are to select “Conversation Cards”, each of which has a cost in “Conversation Points” and a risk/reward payoff with regard to the threat level. The aim is to get at least half of the hostages out alive and capture/kill the Hostage Taker, or to rescue all the hostages, in order to win.

The game is well made with very high-quality components, the rules booklet is clear and well-illustrated and the scenarios are well balanced. The box is small with no wasted space and the time to play is 15 to 30 minutes.

I’m really not a fan of solo games, but the idea of someone making a game about hostage negotiation really intrigued me. There are some minor niggles with the rules (exceptions to existing rules at different times in the game), but they are generally clear and easy to follow.

Hostage Negotiator2.jpg

The game was tense and developed a credible narrative following the cards played. I became engrossed and, after messing things up horribly (with most of the hostages getting killed), I immediately played again – which is always a good sign. I then introduce the game to someone who really isn’t a game player but was also intrigued by the subject and it was just as much fun, if not more so, working together to decide on the best negotiating strategy.

The reason that I’m writing a review here for PAXsims is that the game struck me as a possible model for social media influence, or other “hearts and minds” effects base influence operations. The threat track could easily be modified to represent “Social Media Sentiment” or “Support for the NATO Peacekeepers” with measurable effects occurring at the points where a hostage would have been released or killed. Modifying the conversation cards into a range of different “effects” gambits would be a very useful exercise, along with working out appropriate alternatives to the random “Terror” cards.

There is a lot of interest in “social media” simulation and emulation at the moment in Defence. A number of large simulation companies are offering to replicate various social media demographic groups by the use of “AI and machine learning”. The aim is to generate a social media feed that is supposed to replicate the target demographic to such an extent that the users can try out influence strategies for the purposes of training.

My personal view is that you might be able to use “AI and machine learning” to some extent to identify useful information from a mass of background noise, but this is several orders of magnitude away from being able to replicate those feeds to a level of fidelity for training purposes. These approaches are also likely to be hugely expensive and take some years before they could possibly be effective. In the meantime, we need to train people in “hearts and minds” and “effects” on people’s beliefs and attitudes, right now. Current training consists of scripted injects into exercises that are either trivial “box-ticking” exercises or at best short-term interventions that are deliberately limited in their effects so as to avoid upsetting the normal flow of training.

I think that the process of looking at a simple and inexpensive, off-the-shelf, little game like this; with a view to modifying it to produce a manual game system for effects and influence, may have a much greater payoff than putting one’s hope in a large multi-national company’s promise of “AI and machine learning”…

I intend to try this idea out and hope to be able to report back shortly.

Tim Price

Review of Islamic State: The Syria War

Islamic State: The Syria War. Game designer: Javier Romero. Game developer: Ty Bomba. One Small Step/CounterFact magazine, 2017. USD$32.00 (including magazine).

Islamic State is a two-player game included as part of CounterFact magazine #7. It examines the struggle against Daesh (also known as ISIS or the Islamic State) in Syria. Game play is semi-cooperative, in that the Syrian/Russian/Iranian side and the US/Coalition/SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces, including the Syrian Kurds/YPG) side are both fighting against non-player Daesh, and neither can win unless the Islamic State is defeated. However, if Daesh is sufficiently weakened, the game reverts to being full competitive, in that only one of the two players can ultimately triumph. The game is similar in general design to Islamic State: Libya War, published in 2016. The rules can be downloaded for free here.

pic3830491.jpg

Image credit: Javier Romero (via BGG).

Islamic State: Syria War uses point-to-point movement, which is appropriate given the geography, population distribution, and transportation network found in Syria. Indeed, a very similar system was used in the Countering ISIL game designed by the rapid prototyping working group at the 2015 MORS special meeting on wargaming. That game was later developed by RAND for use in professional settings.

Players have a number of combat options to choose from each turn, ranging from movement/ground combat to reconnaissance, air/artillery strikes, snatch-and-grab operations, and targeted killings, The actions of Daesh are largely determined by chit draw, and might include military offensives, infiltration, subversion, kidnappings, and smuggling. From time to time, other Syrian rebel factions or Turkey might also take action through a similar mechanism. When combat occurs, Daesh forces are randomly drawn, with some units having particular characteristics such as limited anti-tank or anti-air capability, or use of IEDs and human shields.

Islamic State: The Syria War has some rough edges. Some game mechanisms could be a little more elegant, and the rules have some gaps or areas where they could be clearer. It also very much focuses on Syria through the prism of Daesh, and rather than the struggle between the Syrian opposition and the Asad regime. Nevertheless, for a small magazine game it features some interesting elements, and it nicely captures many key aspects of the conflict. I particularly liked the portrayal of special operations forces, the role that intelligence collection plays in the game, and the way in which Daesh activity can be slowed by eliminating leaders or sealing the northern (Turkish) border.

GCAM2.0 “Comprehensive Approach” simulation

Last week, Dr. Anja van der Hulst (TNO and University of Amsterdam) was kind enough to run a game of the (somewhat-awkwardly-named) “Go4it Comprehensive Approach simulation Model” (or GCAM2.0) for 18 student volunteers from my POLI 450 course on peacebuilding. It went very well indeed.

GCAM2.0 was developed in cooperation with the NATO Civil-Military Cooperation (CIMIC) Centre of Excellence, and is now regularly used in both Dutch and NATO military training. The “comprehensive approach” itself is NATO jargon intended to underscore the need to engage a variety of means and tools and a multiplicity of actors in stabilization operations:

NATO’s new Strategic Concept, adopted at the Lisbon Summit in November 2010, underlines that lessons learned from NATO operations show that effective crisis management calls for a comprehensive approach involving political, civilian and military instruments. Military means, although essential, are not enough on their own to meet the many complex challenges to Euro-Atlantic and international security. Allied leaders agreed at Lisbon to enhance NATO’s contribution to a comprehensive approach to crisis management as part of the international community’s effort and to improve NATO’s ability to contribute to stabilzation and reconstruction.

GCAM2.0 is a card-driven game with computer-assisted adjudication, in which four sets of players—the local government in a fragile and conflict-affected country, a (UN or NATO) foreign task force, NGOs, and opposition forces (OPFOR)—allocate limited resources each turn to a range of possible assessments and interventions.

roles.PNG

When the interventions are entered into the computer, it immediately updates a range of political, security, and socio-economic indicators, which are displayed to players as a series of bar graphs. The effectiveness of interventions may be affected by contextual conditions, such as security; by what other cards have or have not yet been played; and by how many teams have allocated resources to support any given initiative.

IMG_1279.JPG

Teams discuss what actions to take, while the projector indicates the current situation.

IMG_1285.JPG

Players look at their cards and hence various options.

IMG_9322.jpg

More discussions and planning.

In our game, OPFOR decided early on to not pick a fight with the Task Force, but rather try to appear cooperative—while at the same time laying the groundwork for its own de facto administration in the conflict area. They did this by supporting their own clinics, schools, and other projects (often securing NGO or Task Force support), while always finding some excuse not to support government initiatives. The Local Government grew ever more frustrated that no one was listening to their legitimate authority.

IMG_9333.jpg

Players wait to see the results of their latest actions as Anja enters the details into her computer.

As their local popularity grew, so too did OPFOR resources. In the end they even branched out into drug production —and, what’s more, somehow managed to convince the NGO team to fund it under the guise of being “an alternative agricultural project”.

IMG_9339.jpg

An investment in illegal drug production.

IMG_9341.jpg

Anja and OPFOR (locally known as “Team Evil”) thank an NGO representative for her unwitting contribution to the local drug trade.

The game lasted about 2 and a half hours, and everyone seemed to both enjoy themselves and learn from the experience —including the importance of not blindly supporting projects suggested by nefarious local rebel factions!

You’ll find a fuller academic paper on GCAM2.0 here.

Crisis in Galasi

Next week I’m off to France to take part in a conference on the urban dimensions of religious conflict, organized by Prof. Mick Dumper (University of Exeter). In addition to the usual academic papers and discussions, this conference will also include a simulation set in Galasi, the fictional capital of the fictional country of Carana. This envisages the rise of a Christian populist political party, a nervous Muslim minority, and a possible clash over a disputed religious site, the Sultan Hamad bin Said Mosque (or Church of St. Mychil).

I’ll let you know how it all turns out.

DIRE STRAITS at McGill University

On Sunday, some one hundred participants took part in DIRE STRAITS, a megagame exploring crisis stability in East and Southeast Asia.

McGill University’s third annual megagame, DIRE STRAITS, is set in the year 2020. It explores crisis stability in East and Southeast Asia in the context of an unpredictable Trump Administration, growing Chinese strategic power, and multiple regional crises.

How will the region and the world deal with the challenge of North Korean nuclear weapons? Will China consolidate its hold over the South China Sea? How might relations between Beijing and Taiwan develop if the latter decides to adopt a more independent path? And how will the White House—beset by scandal, factional infighting, and an angry, unpredictable President—respond?

This is the second time Jim Wallman and I have run the game—the first time was at the Connections UK wargaming conference at King’s College London back in September, which prompted this BBC News report. So, how did it go this time around? Very well, I think.

In contrast to the KCL game, at McGill the various ASEAN countries started to push back quite hard against Chinese territorial claims and illegal fishing in the South China Sea. Vietnam at one point dropped practice depth charges to warn of a Chinese sub, and Indonesia and the Phillipines both arrested Chinese fishing vessels or tangled with Chinese naval and coast guard vessels—with aggressive maneuvering by both sides causing several collisions.

IMG_0955.jpeg

Military forces in and around the Korean peninsula.

North Korea tested a multiple reentry-vehicle (MRV) warhead on its Hwasong-15 ICBM, lobbing it over Japan to a splash-down in the Pacific. (A Japanese effort to intercept the test with an Aegis BMD was unsuccessful.) Thereafter, however, diplomacy prevailed, with the two Koreas and Japan signing an agreement that called for advance warning of tests and military exercises, and which also resolved a number of outstanding fishing issues. Hedging their bets, both South Korea and Japan took some preliminary steps that would facilitate the launch of a future nuclear weapons programme.

Part of the reason for this was the unpredictability of US policy, which seemed to oscillate wildly as different factions in the White House fought for influence. (Such was the level of political turmoil in Washington DC that at one point the White House Chief of Staff sought to have the Secretary of State fired—only for the maneuver to backfire, and the Chief of Staff be fired by President Trump instead.) Ultimately the US did fire on one North Korean sub that was shadowing a US carrier too closely, but fortunately this did not spark North Korean retaliation.

India proved very successful at advancing it’s interest in disputed border regions, using covert information operations and diplomacy to deepen defence cooperation with both Bhutan and Nepal. In this they were aided by the other demnds on China’s attentions, with Beijing facing multiple crises.

The most important of these was Taiwan, where revelations of Chinese election hacking had caused a massive backlash against Beijing. China continued to conduct cyberwarfare against Taiwan, and even funded some opposition groups, but this only seemed to increase Taiwan’s resolve to seek greater independence from the mainland. The extent to which ASEAN countries were pushing back against China was undoubtedly a factor in China’s growing strategic frustration too.

IMG_0958.jpeg

Nationalist fervour in Taiwan. Shortly thereafter sirens would sound, indicating incoming PLA missiles and aircraft.

Finally, as the crisis grew, aggressive maneuvering by the two sides in the Strait of Taiwan escalated into open military clashes. Ships and aircraft from a US carrier task force supported Taiwan. This led the Chinese to mount a full-scale invasion of the island—and to put their nuclear forces on full alert to deter any more outside intervention as they sought to repress their “rebellious province.”

The game thus ended with Chinese troops having secured a bloody foothold on the island, as the outnumbered and outgunned Taiwanese armed forces fought back resolutely.

The game was essentially the same as the KCK version, with only a few small tweaks: less form-filling, a system of intelligence cards, and a simplified system for indicating commitment and military orders.  Once again, our media team did a terrific job of keeping everyone informed of what was happening.

We’ll be doing another McGill megagame in February 2019, so watch this space!

“In-Stride Game Adjudication” Session at Connections US 2018

Invitation to participate as an expert panelist

Many multiplayer events require adjudication to be performed simultaneously with play over a period of hours or days. This session will focus on the unique challenges for success in such events. After a introduction of the topic, each participant will spend 10 minutes outlining a specific challenge/problem of their choice experienced in such events, offer approaches to how to solve these challenges and highlight the advantages/disadvantages of each approach based on logic and experience. Following the speakers we will engage in an open discussion between the speakers and the floor.

an-army-lines-up-for-battle-paul-noth.jpgEach participant will commit to providing a white paper (minimum three page text, not PowerPoint, but as long as you like) describing the challenges they are addressing, their proposed approach, the logic and experience that leads them to believe their approach might work, and the disadvantages of their approach BEFORE the conference. They may downselect to a specific challenge when speaking at the panel. They will also assist in producing the product from the session — a stand-alone report containing the panelists pre-delivered white papers, a bibliography on the topic, and notes generated from the session. Ownership and rights to sections of the product will belong to the relevent authors. Your white paper can be a previously published (relevent!) piece so long as you provide permission to include it in our report.

The objectives of the session are to start a research conversation on the topic, identify people working the topic, and create a written document for promulgation to the wargaming community.

Examples of topics could include the following when doing in-stride adjudication:

  • How to provide timely adjudication
  • Rigid versus Free adjudication
  • Inductive versus Deductive adjudication
  • Dealing with aberrant player behavior
  • Dealing with observed player agendas
  • Recovering from adjudication errors
  • Whatever else you can think of …

(1) If you are interested in being on the panel please email both of us as soon as possible along with a very brief outline of your paper and presentation for us to review.

(2) If you would like to submit a white paper for inclusion in the session report but do not want to speak, please send that to both of us.

(3) Everyone, please email both us us with your suggested items for a bibliography of the topic.

We have seats for 8 panelists.

Many thanks for your considerstion

Merle Robinson, murno.robinson@gmail.com

Stephen Downes-Martin, stephen.downesmartin@gmail.com

CONNECTIONS NORTH 2018 wargaming conference report

CONNECTIONS NORTH.png

On February 24, almost two dozen defence analysts, game designers, academics, and conflict simulation students met at McGill University for the CONNECTIONS NORTH miniconference on professional wargaming in Canada. It was a modest affair, but also a resounding success, I think—possibly the largest meeting of its kind ever held in Canada.  We were also buoyed, of course, by the official message of support and encouragement sent on in advance of our meeting by our British wargaming colleagues at Dstl. A key impetus for the meeting was the presence of a number of professional colleagues from Ottawa and Kingston who had travelled to Montreal for the DIRE STRAITS megagame at McGill on Sunday, which will be the subject of a subsequent report.

IMG_9301.jpg

Waiting for things to start.

The afternoon started off with three surveys of wargaming and other serious gaming. Ben Taylor (Defence Research and Development Canada) discussed the development of gaming techniques to support and enhance the Capability-Based Planning (CBP) process. DRDC CORA is exploring matrix games as a relatively simple method for exploring scenarios and scenario development, and recent games involving a former defence planning scenario have found considerable receptivity. One advantage of a matrix game approach, he suggested, is that players are not limited by game components, and therefore more likely to think broadly and creatively. In the discussion that followed, participants raised such issues as the need for senior leadership-buy in, possible limitations of matrix games for operation or tactical-level gaming, the strengths and weaknesses of more structured gaming techniques (such as RCAT) and how various gaming approaches might be integrated, and where in the CBP gaming methodologies best fitted. You’ll find a copy of Ben’s slides here.

Next, I offered an overview of various gaming initiatives that I have been involved with, whether in a teaching capacity at McGill University, in support of educational and policy research initiatives elsewhere, or through PAXsims. I also raised the issue of how best to carry forward the momentum we have seen in Canada in the past year or so, marked by the establishment of the CONNECTIONS NORTH email list for professional wargamers/policy gamers, the informal networks that have emerged from the Diplomatic Challenges in the South China Sea game that Global Affairs Canada sponsored last fall, from DRDC initiatives, and now from this conference. You’ll find the slides from my presentation here.

Connections North

Anja van der Hulst (TNO) then discussed some of the game initiatives she has been involved with recently. Of particular interest was her discussion of exploring hybrid warfare using matrix games. She noted that game design and components had a substantial impact on game play, with a preponderance of military assets predisposing players to kinetic methods. Anja also raised the important role that emotions and other psychological factors can play in shaping player behaviour and strategy. This spurred considerable discussion throughout the conference as to how best to encourage players to internalize game narratives and respond in ways that resemble either the psychology of particular actors, or their value systems, fears, and concerns.

A coffee break followed, complete with Timbits. This was a Canadian wargaming conference, after all.

After the break, Jim Wallman (Stone Paper Scissors) offered some perspectives on the UK Royal Air Force’s recent Eagle Warrior exercise, which consisted on one major wargame and  series of associated games. As noted by the RAF:

Exercise Eagle Warrior brought together the best and brightest military minds from the Royal Air Force, British Army, Royal Navy, Joint Force Command, Defence Intelligence, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, the United States Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force.

This operational-level war game was the first of its kind in eight years but was in fact much more than a game alone, it was a platform for conceptual analysis and critical thinking as well as the development of further interoperability with our Allies.

The wargame lasted two weeks with multiple games being played throughout, focussing on how wars might look in 2030.

h-1.jpg

Exercise Eagle Warrior (picture credit: RAF)

While Jim was constrained to address only unclassified aspects of the exercise, he offered extremely valuable insight into the challenges of senior leadership engagement (both as a positive factor, and as a challenge for game facilitation), rapid game design, and the importance of game design and materials in shaping player experiences.

Grand Designs Design Thinking in Games Graphic Design Presentation

All of this led nicely into a presentation by Tom Fisher (Imaginetic) on “Design Thinking in Games,” in which he discussed how the presentation of a game shaped player experience, above and beyond the formal system represented in the game rules. Specifically, he drew upon Don Norman’s three levels of game design: visceral, behavioural, and reflective. Visceral design addresses the almost unconscious impact of graphic design and game components on how players “feel” about the game, and the intellectual and emotional associations these stimulate. Behavioural design is about usability, and how the graphic presentation of the game enhances, or detracts from, playability. Finally, the reflective element of design concerns how a player rationalizes the game experience, and the impact that it has. Throughout, Tom warned about inappropriate graphic or component choices that force players out of engagement and narrative (and also warned against the danger that beguiling graphics can result in players accepting unrealistic or misleading models of reality). Finally he emphasized the importance of making game designs as simple as possible for a given purpose, the value of “dual coding” (in which text and graphics are mutually reinforcing), and how one can use a player’s preexisting mental model to make something more acceptable and convincing. You’ll find a copy of his slides here.

IMG_9302.jpg

Some of the participants at CONNECTIONS NORTH.

That ended the formal activities for the day. In the evening, however, we ran a game of A RECKONING OF VULTURES from the Matrix Game Construction Kit (MaGCK) for those who wanted to stick around.

A RECKONING OF VULTURES is set in the capital of the fictional Republic of Matrixia. There, in the ornate Presidential Palace, surrounded by his most loyal Presidential Guards, the President-for-Life lies on his death-bed—and various power-hungry factions are jostling to take power themselves. Once the President passes, competition between these would-be successors will escalate into open conflict, until the Central Committee of the Ruling Party can meet and agree on a new leader.

The game was designed to show how matrix games can be used to explore a range of issues and modalities, from political maneuvering through to tactical employment of force in complex urban environments.

img_7835

In the first phase of our game, the Central Security and Intelligence Directorate (secret police) largely focused on gaining information and leverage, including control over the media. The Matrixian Armed Forces moved potentially disloyal troops away from key power centres, and focused on securing the loyalty of the armed forces. The Ministry of Interior dispatched police units to the potentially rebellious university campus, while the Oligarchs rented thugs and bribed religious leaders. The National Union of Toilers (NUT) infiltrated union organizers into the police unit guarding the prison, as well as a key armoured battalion (which had spent days parading around the city since no one wanted it outside their power base).

IMG_0950.jpeg

Early in the game of A RECKONING OF VULTURES.

When the President-for-Life died, NUT sympathizers in the police seized the main prison, while the tank battalion declared itself a supporter of the proletarian revolution. CSID control of the media and the Oligarchs’ influence with religious establishment allowed both of them to shape public expectations. The MAF commander was successful in both ordering military reinforcements to the city and securing the loyalty of the Presidential Guard, both of which then attacked CSID headquarters with support and encouragement from NUT protesters. Although the CSID spymaster managed to escape this attack, his efforts to relocate to the Central Bank were foiled when his thuggish convoy of black SUVs was shot up by soldiers at a MAF checkpoint. At a critical moment, the NUT-controlled tanks stormed the campus, and freed the students there from the tyranny of police occupation.

Finally, the Central Committee of the Ruling Party met. The Minister of the Interior went into the balloting with a small advantage, for the police had shown the foresight to quietly occupy several key locations in the city while everyone else fought. In the end, however, it was the MAF Commander who emerged victorious and was named the new President.

 

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 23 February 2018

Wordles230218.png

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. Bill Rogers suggested material for this latest edition.

Have suggestions for our next update? Send them on!

PAXsims

Arnold Games.jpg

The Joseph “Jay” Arnold discusses “Buildings Teams with Board Games” in the January 2018 edition of the United States Naval Institute Proceedings:

Leaders are often at a loss to find successful team-building exercises, frequently falling back on stereotypical team sports or costly outside facilitators. Many modern board games offer an opportunity for team-based and cooperative play that can provide surprisingly innovative team-building. Unlike tired old family standbys such as “Monopoly,” “Clue,” or “Sorry,” these more recent games are tailor-made to be more challenging, more cerebral, and more likely to encourage repeat play. Furthermore, these games can help your team develop transferable skills—performing complex tasks while stressed, anticipatory planning, and interpersonal communications. A class of Illinois Army National Guard officer candidates recently tested the value of such games by playing the science-fiction game “Space Cadets: Dice Duel” by Stronghold Games as part of a weekend activity and found it valuable.

PAXsims

Waypoint features a thoughtful interview with Luke Hughes about his new wargame (or tactical leadership RPG), Burden of Command:

Burden of Command follows a historical company of U.S. soldiers, part of the Army’s 7th Infantry Regiment “Cottonbalers,” through some of the now-familiar beats of World War II. And even though if you squint a bit the game might look like a familiar wargame complete with hexes and unit counters, its focus is on relationships rather than rounds of ammunition and armor levels.

For Hughes, empathy and what he calls “emotional authenticity” are the focal points for the design of Burden of Command. The studio has set out a rather prickly design problem: synthesizing battlefield tactics and doctrine with moral decisions about how to respond to the needs of your men in a way that’s both historically accurate and engaging on a deep level. And to do this, they’ve shifted their focus away from rounds per minute statistics and onto the psychological concept of suppression—which is, essentially, the tactical application of fear.

“Most games treat firepower as the essence—I mean, pick a shooter. It’s all about landing those bullets, that’s how you win. Wargames too, for that matter, focus on firepower,” Hughes explained. “In our game, it’s all about fear of death. So when you fire at the enemy, you probably don’t kill them. If they’re not fools and running around in the open, they’re probably down on the ground, behind some cover, and you’re not going to hit them.”

You’ll also find an interview with Hughes here at the GrogHeads podcast.

PAXsims

At War on the Rocks, Michael Peck discusses what GMT Games’ Churchill might teach us about alliance politics.

The ultimate lesson of Churchill is that diplomacy matters. The game simulates this through cards and dice (players can make agreements among themselves, though the rules emphasize that these are notbinding). But the game beautifully illuminates how clever, incompetent or perhaps unlucky diplomacy at a conference table can profoundly influence a nation’s strategy.

Churchill also illustrates an essential truth of both alliances and marriages: conflict and cooperation must exist, even if in uneasy harmony. To defeat the Axis, the Allies must work together. America, Russia, and Britain will win some issues at the conference table, and lose others. There is no shame in not winning it all, as long as you win what you need.

Under the Trump administration, the U.S. State Department is losing seasoned diplomats. In fact, diplomacy and alliance-building seem to have lost ground to belligerent tweets and unilateral actions. But as Churchill the man and Churchill the game would agree, this is no strategy for victory.

Churchill-boardgame.jpg

PAXsims

Red Team Journal continues to regularly feature items of interest to serious gamers, including recent blog posts on the important of addressing cognitive processes and bias, and frequent shortcomings of Red Team engagement.

PAXsims

45159490.jpg

The Wavell Room recently discussed the “Utility of Wargaming.

War games create a training environment in which we can test ourselves against the frictions and frustrations of combat.  It allows us to model the impact of chance and improve both our planning and execution of military operations.  This article highlights the key themes from the HQ 20 Armoured Infantry Brigade (20 Brigade) experience of war gaming.  It aims to encourage others to take up war gaming as a serious professional development tool.  20 Brigade has used war gaming, specifically the Army designed Camberley Kreigsspiel, successfully to test plans and enable the execute. War gaming is also fun; it is a conversational team activity that players enjoy.  The key lesson for the Brigade is that it must be taken seriously and engaged with as we would any other battle.

PAXsims

The Asia Times offers some insights into the use of computer games and related technologies within China’s People’s Liberation Army:

Chinese soldiers are being encouraged to indulge their patriotic enthusiasm via computer games like Command & Conquer: Red Alert and its homemade shooter game Glorious Mission to hone their skills for national defense in the real world.

The People’s Liberation Army Daily says that artificial intelligence, computer games and wearable devices will be new tools to train commanders and new recruits in real-time strategy games with inputs from the country’s intelligence system to mock wartime conditions, and a raft of parameters adjustable to simulate different combat scenarios.

Glorious Mission has been criticised for trivializing the reality of war by presenting conflict as a video game, but an updated version has gone a step further by allowing gameplay on the Diaoyu Islands, or Senkaku in Japanese, which has been at the center of the bitter spat between Beijing and Tokyo over the past decade.

PAXsims

roman-dice-ar2324b.jpg

The Atlantic has an interesting piece on how “The Shape of Ancient Dice Suggests Shifting Beliefs in Fate and Chance.”

Dice, in their standard six-sided form, seem like the simplest kind of device—almost a classic embodiment of chance. But a new study of more than 100 examples from the last 2,000 years or so unearthed in the Netherlands shows that they have not always looked exactly the way they do now. What’s more, the shifts in dice’s appearance may reflect people’s changing sense of what exactly is behind a roll—fate, or probability.

We’ve discussed before at PAXsims how dice and chance are perceived differently by different groups (such as hobby gamers and military officers), and also how game components embody cultural views and player expectations.

PAXsims

nl_logo.png.jpeg

The 2018 edition of the Geo-Political Simulator, “Power and Revolution,” is now available:

With the 2018 add-on, you can participate in the conquest of space and try to be the first to set foot on Martian soil,  battle cybercrime and use it to cripple your enemies, administer justice to the roster of terrorists to thwart attacks and step in to prevent World War Three by overthrowing the American president and neutralizing North Korea.

PAXsims

The Kickstarter for Nights of Fire is now live. Nights of Fire is a much-anticipated card-driven boardgame of confrontation in Budapest during the 1956 Hungarian Uprising, designed by Brian Train and David Turczi. The game can be played solo, cooperatively by 2 players, or by 1-2 players against a third opponent in charge of Soviet forces.

PAXsims

http---prod.static9.net.au-_-media-2018-02-11-20-18-180211_TCN_SIMOPS3.jpg

According to the Daily Mail,A police simulation featuring hundreds of brawling soccer spectators invading a stadium has sparked outrage.”

The New South Wales Police scenario, played out at a secret training facility in Sydney’s west, soon raised the ire of soccer fans online.

Furious followers of the sport accused the police force of stereotyping and bias, saying they should focus on riots or violent cricket or rugby league fans instead.

You’ll find more on the story from Nine News.

491D53C100000578-5379123-_This_is_awful_Shows_police_have_a_bias_against_our_sport_NSW_po-a-4_1518392439051.jpg

PAXsims

Meanwhile, at McGill University, there continues to be a great of conflict simulation work underway. Students in my POLI 490 conflict simulation design seminar are working on their projects (urban operations in Mosul, the Darfur War, and China’s One Belt One Road initiative). The class has also recently played demonstration games of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game and Islamic State: The Syria War as they explore the challenge of designing semi-cooperative games.

I’ve completed work on the “Crisis in Carana” game that I’ll be running at a forthcoming academic conference on urban religious conflict.

28058739_10103548980536487_4338902921736333426_n.jpg

Game briefings for Crisis in Carana. Note the ominous “People Who Don’t Like To Be Photographed” name tag…

Finally, this weekend is the CONNECTIONS NORTH 2018 miniconference on Saturday, followed by the DIRE STRAITS megagame on Sunday. It will be a busy weekend indeed!

PAXsims

Last, and almost certainly least: the New Learning Times contains an interview with yours truly on serious gaming. You’ll find it here.

%d bloggers like this: