PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

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.

Serious Games Forum 2018 conference report

This report is written by PAXsims research associate Juliette Le Ménahèze. All pictures are courtesy of the Serious Games Network.


 

image.pngThe first edition of the Serious Games Forum was held on 3 December 2018 in Paris. The event was hosted at the War College (École Militaire) by the Serious Games Network (SGN) – France, and supported by a number of associations. The event was attended by 200 people, and counted no less than 30 speakers and workshop facilitators.

The morning was dedicated to conference panels, organized around two themes: a first general panel on wargaming, and a second focusing on the benefits of wargaming for business.

First, Patrick Ruetschmann (SGN President and the Forum’s main organizer) welcomed everyone and explained how the day was to unfold.

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General reflections on wargaming

Historian and wargame designer Pierre Razoux spoke on the use of wargaming at the War College strategic research institute (Institut de Recherche Stratégique de l’Ecole Militaire – IRSEM), where he leads the “regional questions – North” research cluster. IRSEM distinguishes itself from other French think-tanks by resorting extensively to wargaming, which still lacks recognition and is seldom used in France.

Professor Philip Sabin then explained the reasons why King’s College London, where he teaches wargaming, is establishing a Wargaming Network (WN). The aim of the WN, which he co-directs with Ms Ivanka Barzashka and for which the inaugural lecture was held the day following the conference, endeavours to advance wargaming as a tool for innovation and education to address current security challenges. King’s has a rich history of wargaming, and through the WN they seek to further still their position as a hub for the growing community of students and staff studying and applying wargames. He discussed the importance of wargaming as an active learning tool for King’s students, who through playing and designing wargames further their understanding of conflict dynamics. Moreover, there is a growing understanding in the defence community that wargaming is a powerful tool, by providing a ‘safe fail’ environment.

Colonel Christophe de Lajudie offered his perspective on whether or not we should refuse digital wargaming. Unfortunately I was not able to attend this talk.

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Wargaming for business

Dr Sara Ulrich spoke of business wargaming, especially in the context of Deloitte crisis management. She is a Director of Deloitte’s UK Crisis Management & Resilience practice leading Contingency Planning for Strategic Risks (Brexit currently) and also Scenario Planning, Simulations and Wargaming.

According to her, business wargaming has capability in four areas:

  • Future preparedness wargames: they allow the company to explore its potential future and get a better understanding of the unknown
  • Issues & crisis preparedness simulations and wargames: they are designed to support a company’s high impact events, issues or crisis plans preparedness.
  • Learning & training wargames: they are designed to help practice and rehearse skills and understand others’ (clients, competitors, regulators, etc.) perspectives
  • Key decisions business wargames: they are designed to support a company’s planning, testing or stress testing of key decisions or important challenges.

Then she explained that Deloitte organizes its wargames in the following way: the client team is faced with the red teams, comprising competitors, as well as the market and regulators, and the control team.

She offered a few examples of wargames organized at Deloitte: three for clients, and an internal wargame for Deloitte’s senior managers.

  • “Global pharma companies wargame workshop” organized for a drug launch
    • Two global pharma companies formed a partnership to co-launch a new drug in two regions. The drug was undergoing phase 3 clinical trials with the results expected to be published soon. The drug was set to launch in two regions. The biggest concern was that the outcome of the clinical trial could demonstrate that the new treatment is no better than current drugs already on the market. The client engaged Deloitte to help assess the potential impacts of various trial results (phase 1, the wargame itself), and to develop a detailed mitigation plan (phase 2). The two “maximum change” scenarios were explored.
  • “Broadband company full market business wargame” to predict competitors’ moves
    • This client was facing an increasingly competitive environment as the ecosystem, regulatory and market landscape continues to evolve. They thus engaged Deloitte to run a 2-day wargame to bring to life the competitive market.
    • Day 1 focused on 2017-2018: Increased fixed line competition and threats of substitution to 4G wireless products and Wi-Fi offerings. During the debriefing session they identified the possibility of a market shock: two competitors may merge due to pressure on growth.
    • Day 2 focused on the future period 2019-2023. It started in the following way: Increased demand for higher broadband speeds due to advancements in technology and looming 5G release poses a substitution threat. Relying on the precedent day’s debriefing findings, they also introduced a market shock, with a new player entry. The debriefing session identified the key threats for this client, what the response strategies should be, relying on the consultant’s’ expertise and on participant reflections. Finally, they were able to detail an action plan.
  • “Negotiation skills business wargame for Deloitte University”
    • The 1-day game was organized for Deloitte Senior Manager level participants with aim to enhance their negotiations skills. The war game used a negotiation model which is based on the Harvard model of negotiation, and involved role-played negotiation meetings. War game materials were pushed to participant teams through an online platform, which drove the wargame and replicated real life decision making. Teams were scored on tasks through the platform, and on face-to-face meetings. These scores were aligned to the negotiation framework for in-day feedback.
  • “Major oil company business wargame” for a future joint venture
    • A major oil company engaged Deloitte to develop a Joint-Venture wargame event in order to bring typical JV risks and challenges to life. The event was themed around “Back to the Future”, taking participants from 2030 to 2016, with a focus on a different JV challenge at each move. Dynamic injects such as newspaper articles, voiceovers and holograms were delivered over the course of the day using Greenhouse technology.
    • The six client participants were divided in two: three focused on the downstream and the three others focused on the upstream. They had to prepare strategic JV responses to scenarios sent by the control team, who would constantly introduce updates and material. Additionally, a team of experts was present to input advice when requested, and role play different stakeholders. They were instrumental in providing key insights during the debriefing session.

I tremendously enjoyed this talk, because it was very practical and detail-oriented. It provided a fresh and dynamic outlook on wargaming and I believe it provided participants with a clear idea of how they could use wargames for their own business needs.

Major Tom Mouat then spoke of what business can learn from wargaming. He started with a reminder for all the participants of what wargaming is about. First wargaming is a great training, and training is about making us better at what we already know, but also about understanding ourselves and making ourselves better. Moreover wargaming is about shared understanding and imagination, competition and adversarial thinking, and understanding victory and learning from defeat. He particularly emphasized that last point.

Tom Mouat then quoted Thomas C Shelling: “The one thing you cannot do… is to make a list of things you never thought of”. That is counterable through wargames. He also reminded us that after the treaty of Versailles was signed, the German army was deprived of a proper army and their actual military exercises were limited. They thus resorted to wargames for training, with a terrible efficacy.

A major danger in the military and the business world alike, is the phenomena of groupthink, in part induced by a rigid hierarchy that makes it hard for lower level officials/ employees to questions their superior’s decisions. It leads to imitation based on previous decisions and limits the possibilities for innovation, reinterpretation, and so on.

To groupthink he opposed the wisdom of crowds. Groups can be better at estimation than individuals. Groups indeed bring a diversity of opinion, decentralized expertise and independence of thought. This advantage is nullified if formal hierarchy is maintained among group members. Another point to consider is that best predictions come from conflict or contest.

He also discussed the usefulness of roleplay in predicting outcomes: one study found that rolepays had a 62% chance of accurately predicting outcomes, far better than a single expert (31% correct) or a game theory (32% correct).

Moving on to business, he identified business benefits from wargaming: analysis of competitor, customer and supplier behavior; new product introductions, market entry scenarios, or development of new businesses; impact of changes in market environment; and simulation of negotiations.

Finally, Tom Mouat reminded us that wargaming isn’t about the “game” (which business people who are not familiar with the practice fail to understand)” Wargaming is about practice, an attitude of mind, getting input from everyone, in an organisation that values innovation, with the goal of exploring ways to make the “other guy” fail, and above all gaining a clear understanding of “what do we want to achieve?”.

Walter Vejdovsky, head of group M&As at Capgemini, discussed the benefits of wargaming for one’s organization. He opened his talk with a quote illustrating the benefits of wargaming: “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand” (Confucius).

He identified the major common traits of the military and business:

  • a pyramidal command structure (whether explicit or implicit in the case of businesses)
  • Limited intelligence on the enemy or the competitors, and internal intelligence/ reporting bias
  • Friction and uncertainty
  • Competition
  • The human factor: the morale is key, and stress, emotions and commitment of any decisions (although businesses face lesser risks)
  • Multidimensional goals: in the military, victory is determined with a mix of losses, geographical control and political factors; in business, the “value” of a corporation involves numerous factors.

Lunch followed, and the major part of the afternoon was dedicated to the game fair, divided in 6 workshops: (1) contemporary games (2) conceive games (3) cybersecurity (4) humanitarian and civil security (5) use for formation (6) history of wargaming.

Each workshop was run twice in the afternoon and comprised of one or two introductory talks, followed by a couple simultaneous games. Running Rex Brynen’s AFTERSHOCK humanitarian crisis game, I unfortunately did not get the occasion to explore the other workshops and games.

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image.pngIn the humanitarian and civil security workshop, Russell King spoke (in French!) of his experience in emergency planning at the British National Health Service (NHS), its crucial importance, and how simulations can lead to positive planning improvements.

Dr Sophie Cros (Panthéon-Sorbonne) then spoke of an experiment she ran with policemen and firemen after three days of formation to crisis management. She ran one realistic and one unrealistic crisis simulation. She noted that the unrealistic simulation had generated a lot of stress among participants, whereas the other did not. When put under stress, individuals showed that they did not completely assimilate what they had learned during the 3-day workshop. The unrealistic, stress-inducing simulation was thus best fitted to spot potential shortcomings of individuals’ trainings.

After the talks the games could take place. I was supposed to run two sessions of AFTERSHOCK but could only run the first one for I was short on participants during the second session. Participants seemed to enjoy the first session, and during the second session I instead explained the game and its uses to a few people who approached me and seemed very interested, be they students, humanitarian personnel, or military personnel. They expressed the wish to see a French version of the game published. (A French translation of the rules and player aids is, however, available on BoardGameGeek.) 

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The last part of the afternoon was dedicated to the results of a hackathon ran jointly by Sciences Po and the French Red Cross. Three teams of Sciences Po students thus presented the game they had designed in just a few weeks for the Red Cross, on the theme of International Humanitarian Law.

The first team had designed an app-supported cyber security wargame, loosely modelled on battleship. The red team tries to find the position of the blue team’s security system and attack it. Both players have to answer cyber security-related questions on the app in order to advance or block the adversary.

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The second team had designed an app-supported game as well, which was semi-collaborative as each player had its own agenda while working towards a common goal for the Red Cross, and one player could even be a secret enemy. The scenarios, agendas of the protagonists, but also the number of turns were randomly generated by the app, making it highly replayable.

The third team had designed a boardgame modeling an emergency issue in a fictive city plagued by civil war between two groups. The game thus comprised three players, The Red Cross and the two fighting groups. Each fighting group had the objective of taking control of the city (seizing the city hall being the main objective), while the Red Cross’ objective was essentially to save as much of the city’s population as possible.

All these games seemed very well designed and enjoyable, and I was truly impressed with what they had managed to achieve in just a few weeks.

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Following that, Tom Mouat, Pierre Razoux, Patrick Ruestchmann, Eric Jacopin and a Red Cross representative took questions from the audience. Finally, it fell to General Carmona, vice-director of the Institute for Higher National Defence Studies (Institut des Hautes Etudes de Défense Nationale, IHEDN), to make a few concluding comments on the conference.

Overall, it was a very productive and stimulating day. As a French national, I must say I was particularly happy to witness the first French edition of a Connections-like conference, and proud of what had been achieved. I want to salute Patrick Ruetschmann’s hard work in putting together such an event practically on his own. The participants too were very dynamic and passionate about their subject.

Moreover, I was impressed and extremely satisfied with the greater gender-parity and proportion of young people compared with other wargaming events I had had the chance to attend in the past. The collaboration between Sciences Po and the Red Cross, and the partnership with a master’s program partly taught at the War College itself were decisive in increasing the number of young participants. I particularly appreciated that Sciences Po students were able to present their games. It sent a strong signal that the young were able to produce smart, fun and instructive wargames.

I hope to see more of this in the 2019 edition, that promises to be more ambitious with at least two days of conference.

Juliette Le Ménahèze 

2018 in review

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Happy 2019, everyone! With a new year upon us, it is a good time to review the past year at PAXsims.

First off, we are happy to report that we had our most successful year yet, with some 60,127 visitors and 119,628 page views. That brings us up to a total of 702,535 views since the project was launched ten years ago in January 2009.

The largest share of our views continue to come from the United States (46%), UK (12%), and Canada (9%). However, viewers from China now comprise a larger and larger share, now representing the fifth largest group of visitors. All told we had visitors from 179 different countries and territories, including East Timor and Chad.

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We had 119 posts on the website in 2018. The post popular posts from the past year were our recent review of the iOS game Rebel Inc, MAJ Cole Peterson’s account of the Sea Dragon wargaming competition at Marine Corps University, our report on the WATU wargame, an overview of Dstl’s STRIKE! battlegroup tactical wargame, and the PAXsims report on the Connections UK 2018 professional wargaming conference. Our all-time most popular piece is on the wargaming Wrens of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit, as well as our resource pages on AFTERSHOCK and the Matrix Game Construction Kit.

Brian Train remains our most prolific commenter on posts, and hence is once again recipient of the annual Golden PAXsim award.

 

Serious Games Network video report

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A video overview of the recent Serious Games Network conference in Paris is now available via youTube.

Careful viewers will catch sight of PAXsims associate editor Tom Mouat (who was one of the speakers) and PAXsims research associate Juliette Le Ménahèze (running a game of AFTERSHOCK). Juliette is writing up a conference report soon for PAXsims.

h/t Patrick Ruestchmann 

King’s Wargaming Network: Yuna Wong on “‘Developing an Academic Discipline of Wargaming” (16 January)

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The second lecture of the King’s Wargaming Network will feature Dr Yuna Wong (RAND) on ‘Developing an Academic Discipline of Wargaming: Pathways, Possibilities and Pitfalls’. The event will be held on 16 January 2019 from 18:00 to 19:30 at Bush House Lecture Theatre 1 at King’s College London, and live streamed via the King’s Wargaming Network YouTube channel, kclwargaming.

Dr Yuna Huh Wong is a policy researcher whose work includes wargaming human-machine collaboration and manned-unmanned teaming in the Third Offset; surveying wargaming tools and approaches in support of Marine Corps wargaming; Army satellite bandwidth demand to support training; developing capacity metrics for Marine Corps wargaming; and developing scenarios using future trends for the Air Force. She is also a professor at the Pardee RAND Graduate School.

In this public lecture, Dr Yuna Wong (RAND) discusses how we can build an integrated, globally-recognised academic field in which knowledge about wargaming may be produced, preserved, and transmitted. She addresses the questions: Why do we need an academic discipline of wargaming? What concrete steps can we take in the short and medium terms to establish such a discipline? What obstacles might we face in this endeavour?

Register to attend via Eventbrite.

Peter Perla on wargame design

The following report was submitted by PAXsims research associate (and King’s College London student) Harrison Brewer.


 

1200x630bb.jpgAlmost anyone versed in wargaming will have heard Peter Perla’s name and rightly so. Perla is as close to a household name as one can get within the wargaming community, barring James Dunnigan and Avalon Hill. Perla has done it all – he has been a wargamer, a designer, a Navy defence researcher, a contributing editor to wargaming magazines, the subject of a Private Eye cartoon, and author of what could be referred to as the holy text of wargame design, The Art of Wargaming.

I first heard of Peter Perla during my conflict simulation seminar, taught by Rex Brynen at McGill University. The Art of Wargaming was one of two textbooks we used and quickly, you get a sense of how Perla straddles the schism of wargame design – is wargaming an art or a science? This question has been chasing myself during my brief experience as a wargame designer, first at McGill and now at King’s College London under Phil Sabin’s equally grand tutelage. With this in mind, I was incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to hear Peter speak at King’s as part of the Conflict Simulation module I am enrolled in.

Peter began by saying that the process of creatively interpreting historical events is the same as writing fiction – you must identify the hero, the villain, and the conflict. Wargaming is no different although the content is almost always more macabre. Any designer must first decide where the key conflict lies in the minds of the participants. Who were seen as the protagonists? Is the battle of Waterloo about Napoleon or is it about his generals? Peter emphasises that you must decide who and what you want to focus on before you begin the creative process. Secondly, no conflict is fought in a vacuum. Once you have decided who features and what they are fighting about, a wargame designer must decide what story they are going to tell. Is it about the political economy, the social tensions, the diplomatic negotiations, or the political compromise? There is no rule to understanding the context, but it is the bread and butter of any wargame and so, should be the first ingredients you find and from the best sources. Peter is a self-confessed tank man, despite his long career in the Navy, and uses the acronym TREADS to help guide any new project he embarks on. TREADS stands for time, resources, entities, actions, dynamics, and space – these elements are the building blocks of your wargame. How you connect these pieces and how you communicate them to your audience will help to communicate the story you are trying to tell.

\Next, Peter outlines his three paradigms of design, the analyst, the artist, and the architect, and explains that any wargame will have a little of each. How much or how little is dependent, once again, on the story being told. The analyst is concerned with how well your model models the real world quantitatively. It involves equations, data, mathematical modelling, and simulation – think of operational analysis. Persian Incursion is such a game, at least in its highly detailed treatment of air operations, aid defences, target hardening, and weapons capabilities. The artist wants the player to experience the emotional and intellectual challenges of the situation and is concerned with the more intangible elements of the conflict. The artist’s main design problem is how to get the tension of the actors involved to drive player decision-making – The Grizzled, a WW1 survival simulator, or the Vietnam Survival Game are good examples. The architect focuses on the structure of a wargame. What decision points will the player face and how do you build a framework that creates these decisions and lets them reflect the real-world dilemmas faced by the actors within a given conflict. AFTERSHOCK is an example of a game that has complex dilemma frameworks and a wide range of interconnecting decisions.

Peter ended by offering some words of wisdom to the fledgling game designers in the room – the importance of the ‘proliferation of complexity followed by ruthless simplification’. Every designer should make the game complex beyond belief in order to create a model that reflects the environment of the conflict before trimming and pruning it down to be as simple as possible. Whilst you are head down, submerged in memoirs, orders of battle, and statistics, it can be easy to forget that your design must be digestible by the layman wargamer. Indeed, the job of a designer is to take something complex, translate it into a new medium, and make it believable, understandable, and simple.

Harrison Brewer

Peter Perla makes Private Eye

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Peter Perla’s recent inaugural lecture for the King’s College Wargaming Network has, it seems, made it to the esteemed pages of the British satirical publication, Private Eye (larger image here).

h/t David Knowles
(former member of the famed Lymington & District Wargames Club)

Simulation & Gaming (December 2018)

sgbarThe latest edition of Simulation & Gaming 49, 6 (December 2018) is now available.

Editorial
Research Articles

Theoretical Article

Simulation Ready to Use

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 9 December 2018

wordle091218.pngPAXsims 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.

PAXsims

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On December 4 the King’s College London Wargaming Network held its inaugural event, a lecture by Peter Perla on “The Art and Science of Wargaming in an Era of Strategic Competition.” You can listen to a recording of here lecture here.

For updates, follow the KCL Wargaming Network on Twitter,

PAXsims

Slitherine’s counterinsurgency/stabilization game Afghanistan ’11 was removed from the Apple Store last week for reportedly violating the a prohibition on depicting “a specific government or other real entity as the enemies.”

This is not the first time Apple’s ban on real-world conflicts has been controversial. As discussed previously at PAXsims, a Syria-themed game was removed in 2013.

PAXsims

A report by the US Naval War College discusses a recent cyber wargame:

More than 70 academics, students and military thinkers gathered at U.S. Naval War College on Nov. 16 to participate in the first war game put on by the college’s new Cyber and Innovation Policy Institute.

It was unique for a cyber event. The game was less about how operations occur in cyberspace and more about examining how people react in a crisis that includes cyberspace threats, organizers said.

Also, the contents were at an unclassified level, rare for a cyber war game, and the event included a wide variety of players, including members of the Naval War College Foundation and students from Newport’s Salve Regina University.

“This game is really designed to understand the link between cyber, conventional and nuclear military operations,” said retired Adm. Scott Swift, the event’s keynote speaker.

“It’s not about cyber operations and how those operations affect cyberspace, but instead why and when cyber operations matter to strategic choices that are made outside of the cyber domain,” said Swift, a former U.S. Pacific Fleet commander who is now a fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The players were given a fictional scenario in which a neighboring country invaded a contested border region.

Cyberattacks played a role, and nuclear weapons were a factor. Participants in the breakout groups were assigned to act as cabinet members.

Jacquelyn Schneider, assistant professor in the Strategic and Operational Research Department, was the lead organizer. Her work at the college focuses on political psychology and how technology affects the human dimension of decision-making.

“This is the very beginning of a project that explores not just decisions in crises but experiments with different types of war games,” Schneider said.

“This looks at how does cyberspace interact with the really high-end levers of national power, and then how does that affect, on the macro level, the chance that states end up going to war and the types of war they fight,” she said.

PAXsims

2018-11-08 18.14.47.jpgOn November 8, staff from the US Naval War College staged a refight of the Battle of Jutland (1916) at the National Maritime Museum in London. You’ll find the US NWC report on the event here.

You’ll also find much fuller reports on the event by Bob Cordery at the Wargaming Miscellany blog, and by David Manley at his blog Don’t Throw Bloody Spears at Me (from which we’ve stolen the photograph on the left).

PAXsims

On September 28, staff at RAND’s Pittsburgh office held an “education policy game night,” in which community members were asked how they would cut the budget of a hypothetical high school:

How would a group of community leaders choose to cut a high school’s budget by 4 percent? And what would happen if parents or teachers held the red pen instead?

The RAND Corporation’s Pittsburgh office held a game night to find out. The game at hand was “Let’s Improve Tanner High School!,” an education policy exercise designed to help researchers understand how interested parties with different perspectives might tackle school improvement challenges—and help them learn about what drives those decisions.

RAND has a long history of using games to better understand human decisionmaking in relation to public policy. Since the 1950s, RAND has developed and conducted tabletop wargames with policymakers and others to help improve national security decisionmaking, but its gaming repertoire has been recently expanded to social economic policy. “Let’s Improve Tanner High School!” is the first RAND game to focus on education policy, and it made its public debut on Sept. 28.

Participants were grouped by their real-life roles—parents, teachers, school leaders, business leaders, and community leaders.

Darleen Opfer, a RAND vice president and director of its Education and Labor research division, explained the game’s premise. Celia Gomez, an associate policy researcher, and Brian Stecher, an adjunct senior social scientist, led the teams through the game.

Two rounds were played, with a different scenario affecting the fictional Tanner High School each time. In an interview, Gomez said “this is not a game with pieces or a board—there aren’t a lot of visuals—the game is really about ideas and dialogue.”

In the first round, each group was asked how they would accommodate a 4 percent cut in funding. During the 15 minutes the teams had to come up with a plan, the room filled with the sound of shuffling paper and muffled conversation as players read through the school’s current budget, demographic information, academic performance, and other data. When the time came to announce their decisions, no two solutions were the same.

Some suggested external partnerships to provide services that would be lost due to staff cuts. Others proposed non-traditional ways the school could make additional money such as selling education facilities to a developer or asking community leaders to voluntarily advise and mentor students.

During the “spotlight” step, teams were asked to refine their ideas and consider how they might overcome the biggest obstacles to their plans. “In this round, we like to encourage interactions,” Stecher said while inviting participants to share their thoughts with the room.

Once the five groups had announced their final plans, it was time to vote. Participants each had two plastic-chip game pieces to award to any team except their own. The team with the most chips won. Gomez instructed players to base their votes on which teams had the best idea, the best discussion point, or the most helpful feedback.

The school leaders won the first round. They had proposed reducing professional services staff by $255,939 and shifting those responsibilities to existing staff. The rest of the needed cuts would come from eliminating four paraprofessional educator positions.

In the second challenge, teams were given a scenario in which students planned a walkout after a teacher allegedly made a racially charged remark to a student. The groups were asked to come up with an immediate plan while an ongoing investigation is taking place.

The school leaders won this round, too, with a solution that engaged each group represented in the room. The plan involved providing language for homeroom teachers so they could acknowledge the situation and give students a constructive way to be heard. Boycotting class would not be allowed for student safety reasons. And the school would host a meeting to inform parents and the community at large about the situation.

PAXsims

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The latest issue of the Journal of Political Science Education 14, 4 (2018) contains a couple of pieces of possible interest to those who design and use educational games.

An article by Joseph Brown (University of Massachusetts) addresses “Efficient, Adaptable Simulations: A Case Study of a Climate Negotiation Game.”

Instructors may be reluctant to adopt simulations because of time, labor, or material constraints, or perceived incompatibility with large classes. In fact, simple games can cover multiple key concepts with minimal time and effort by the instructor. Simple games are also adaptable to other topics and classes, including large lectures. This article presents a simulation in which students negotiate a global greenhouse gas reduction agreement. Three scenarios model basic climate change mitigation, follow-on agreements for climate stabilization, and the surprise withdrawal of signatories after a domestic leadership turnover (e.g., the 2016 U.S. presidential election). The simulation teaches key concepts such as anarchy, collective action, preference divergence, and commitment problems. Concepts such as institutions, identity, and levels of analysis arise organically from game play. The exercise has extremely low cost and setup time. It can be run in 15 minutes or extended for a full class period. The game may also be repurposed to simulate other bargaining or collective action issues. This case study shows that simulations can be efficient and adaptable. Instructors can create their own simple games to enhance comprehension of key concepts.

Carolyn Shaw (Wichita State University) and Bob Switky (Sonoma State University) look at “Designing and Using Simulations in the International Relations Classroom.”

The value of simulations in the classroom is well established, and there are numerous publications that feature specific role-play exercises that can readily be introduced into the classroom. Frequently, however, instructors would like to design their own simulations to fit their specific learning objectives for a class, but don’t know where to start. This article lays out a series of structural and design questions for instructors to consider in order to craft their own simulations. We recognize that there is no singularly “best” way to design simulations, so this article focuses on the key components of simulations and explores different possibilities for each of these components depending on the desired goals of the instructor. We begin with the basics of class size, topic selection, learning objectives, length, and timing. Next, we discuss the design parameters—including the nature of student interaction, desired output, background information, role-specific instructions, and a timeline for the phases of the simulation. We move on to considerations about the actual running of the simulation, and wrap up with reflections on debriefing, grading, and assessment. By stepping through the design questions that are summarized in the Appendix, any instructor, experienced or new to role-playing, can develop a custom simulation to help meet the learning objectives for their courses.

PAXsims

An article by Ralph Clem at the Texas National Security Review last month examines “Military Exercises as Geopolitical Messaging in the NATO-Russia Dynamic: Reassurance, Deterrence, and (In)stability.” While exercises are usually quite highly scripted and hence are one rarely proper wargames, it makes for interesting reading.

PAXsims

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Image credit: Edward Castronova.

Could you use a modified version of Volko Ruhnke’s Andean Abyss (GMT Games) to depict a future civil war in the United States? Why, I suppose you could.

The U.S. midterm election next week feels like one of the most important in a generation. We need to get out and vote. And after it’s over, we need to accept the election result. If we do not, then we could sink into a civil war that so many people are talking about. And that is what Edward “Ted” Castronova fears.

Castronova is a video game professor at Indiana University, and he became famous for writing about synthetic worlds and the economies in online games like EverQuest. Worried about the polarization of American politics, Castronova has created 2040 American Abyss: A Simulation of America’s Next Civil War. He tested it with his students and made it as realistic as possible. Rather than thinking of this as cool game about a miserable topic, he sees it as preventive, or teaching people about such a war would be devastating and have no winners. It is not a partisan game.

Should you? I’m not so sure. It’s hard to see, in this case, what the game would deliver that couldn’t be better (and more seriously) delivered through lectures and class discussion. After all, while political polarization in US politics is a very real thing, collapse into full-scale civil war seems implausible in the extreme.

PAXsims

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In early November, British Conservative Party members of the European Parliament tweeted a picture of themselves laughing as they played a Brexit game. They soon deleted the tweet when the political backlash rolled in.

Now, with Prime Minister Theresa May facing an impending defeat of her Brexit plan in the House of Commons, ministerial resignations and a possible split in the Conservative Party, and the very real possibility of a catastrophic “hard” Brexit departure from the European Union (or, possibly, elections or a second referendum), it must all seem even less amusing.

PAXsims

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The Winter 2019 conference of the Reacting to the Past consortium will be held on 18-19 January 2019 at the University of Georgia on the theme of “Reacting to the Past and Gaming: Revolutionizing Higher Education.” Other forthcoming conferences are:

  • January 15-16, 2019: Regional  Conference at University of Maine, Farmington
  • March 2019: Regional Conference at California State University, Northridge
  • March 29-30, 2019: Regional Conference at High Point University 
  • July 10-12, 2019: Regional Conference at Texas Lutheran University

For more information, consult their website.

PAXsims

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The 2019 Games for Change Festival will be held in New York on June 17-19. G4C is currently soliciting proposals for panels, sessions, and demonstrations.

Details can be found on the G4C2019 website.

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PAXsims

According to a recent article in the Toronto Star, “women are taking on the world of Dungeons and Dragons.”

The 44-year-old Dungeons and Dragons brand had its best year in 2017, and 2018 is poised to be even better. Between 10 and 15 million people play the game globally, according to publisher Wizards of the Coast. While much of that growth stems from the prominence of DnD in shows like Stranger Things and a growing group of A-list stars – like Vin Diesel – who love to role play, at least part of that surge can be attributed to women. Today, one in three, or 39 per cent, of players are female, up from 20 per cent in 2012.

Part of that growth comes from the visibility of female players in online streaming services like Twitch and YouTube, says Benjamin Woo, assistant professor in the school of journalism and communications at Carleton University, and author of Get a Life: The Social Worlds of Geek Culture.

As it becomes more common to watch campaigns unfold online (on camera, the host — called the dungeon master — builds out the story narrative and the players think up how to respond, rolling 20-sided die to determine their success or failure), channels like Girls Guts Glory or MissClicks put women front and centre, and showcase that the game can be welcoming to ladies. “(As a woman) it used to be you had to be invited in by someone and there was this secret society, a boy’s club aura (to the game),” Woo says. “Now, there’s representation on screen.”

Wizards has also tried to make the game more inclusive by ditching the stereotypical scantily clad female depictions….

You’ll find the full article at the link above.

PAXsims

While on the subject of D&D, a report by KQED notes that the role-playing game “cultivates a range of social-emotional skills, which can lay the foundation for improved learning.”

David Simkins, a professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, is an expert on games and learning. His research indicates that role-playing games (RPGs) can boost learning and stimulate intellectual curiosity and growth.

Dungeons & Dragons, and other narrative role playing games of its kind, provide many opportunities for learning,” said Simkins. “Participation in narrative role play can open up interests in topics such as mathematics, science, history, culture, ethics, critical reading, and media production. When D&D and its cousins are played in an inviting, encouraging, compassionate, and intellectually engaged environment, play opens the door to truly amazing possibilities for learning.”

 

PAXsims

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A few weeks ago, I posted my account of the recent workshop I taught on “Serious Games for Policy Analysis and Capacity-Building” at Carleton University in Ottawa. One of the participants, Matt Stevens of Lessons Learned Simulation and Training, has now posted his own review. He has nice things to say!

The course was rich in history, provided extensive examples of modern applications of simulations and wargaming to multiple contexts, and supplied practical tools for building and applying simulations and serious games in the “complex, uncertain environments” to which they are suited.

Rex brought together a wide range of best practices for design and delivery, collected and collated from across the industry and heavily supported by his own practical experience—I would strongly recommend taking a look at his slides, as there are few opportunities to find such a wealth of practical resources on professional simulations in one place. In the coming weeks I expect to highlight a few take-aways and taxonomies raised during the course.

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PAXsims

The Armchair Dragoons website features an interview with Justin Williamson and MAJ David Clayton, two student at the US Army Command & General Staff College, on their recent wargame design experiences at CGSC.

The US Army Command & General Staff College (CGSC) recently launched a new program for students there to pursue an interest in game and sims for training purposes, and end up with a Masters Degree at the end of it all.  We’ve got a more detailed conversation coming up with Dr James Sterrett, who oversees the program, but for now, we thought we’d have a chat with a few of the students who recently completed their degrees and are now back in circulation in the Army, equipped with a wider toolbox of gaming experience.

PAXsims

Students at Georgetown University in Qatar recent took part in a crisis simulation on the Syrian conflict.

“This is an unparalleled hands-on experiential learning activity for our students, giving them an understanding of what it takes to bring people with very different views to the table to resolve a conflict. These are critical life skills no matter which career path they pursue,” explained Dr. Christine Schiwietz, GU-Q assistant dean for academic affairs. Schiwietz co-organizes the simulation with James Seevers, director of studies at Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy in Washington, D.C.

During the course of one week, 28 GU-Q students attended a series of preparatory workshops including modules on the introduction to diplomacy and negotiation theory in advance of the simulation, which culminated in a day of bilateral and multilateral meetings. Working in teams, they sought to resolve key issues around the fate of the current regime and the opposition, the future of the Kurds, and the presence of foreign military troops.

“We’ve done a series of simulations with students here in Doha over the years. I thought this was one of the very best ones in terms of their level of preparation and their engagement with the issues,” commented Seevers. “The diverse nationalities and background of the student body at GU-Q brings different perspectives to the negotiations.”

Further details can be found at al-Bawaba.

Elsewhere in the Gulf, The National reports that “the inaugural Abu Dhabi Diplomacy Conference, known as Diplocon, will feature talks, workshops and a “future diplomats peacegame” — a crisis simulation designed to test the readiness of diplomats in the field.” Diplocon was held on November 1-15, and the conference website can be found here.

PAXsims

The forthcoming Civilization 6 expansion Gathering Storm will address the challenge of climate change—not as a political statement, but because it’s real.

“No, I don’t think that’s about making a political statement,” said lead producer, Dennis Shirk. “We just like to have our gameplay reflect current science.”

“We did do our background research on trying to figure out where the global temperature has been over the last 150 years and what types of factors influence it,” continued lead designer Ed Beach. “So we feel like we don’t have to make a political statement, but we can take the common wisdom of the vast majority of the science community and embed that in the game and that becomes something really interesting for players to be able to engage with.”

PAXsims

Review: Rebel Inc.

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Review of: Rebel Inc. Ndemic Creations, 2018. USD$1.99 on iTunes App Store (coming soon to Android)

Rebel Inc. is a nifty little insurgency and stabilization simulator, set in a fictionalized version of Afghanistan. Playing as a provincial governor, one must balance kinetic military operations with a variety of aid, development, administrative, and political initiatives. If all goes well and the insurgents are stalemated they will eventually enter into peace talks. If those talks are then successful and the country is stabilized, the player wins. If the government’s reputation falls too low, however, external commitment wavers and stabilization ultimately fails.

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The game starts with the most important thing in any stabilization operation: choosing an inspiring name.

There is much that can go wrong. To start with, the insurgents—much like the real thing—are elusive and cunning. Attacking them may have little lasting effect, unless proper cordon-and search operations are used to prevent them from melting away into surrounding districts. Military outposts, local militias, police, and checkpoints may slow their spread. UAVs (drones) are very useful for collecting intelligence, while air strikes are a powerful tool that can backfire if heavy civilian casualties result. Foreign troops are most effective, but their commitment is not unlimited and they might also annoy the local population. Local forces take longer to train and deploy, but are essential in the long term.

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The rebels expand the area under their control.

Aid projects first require stakeholder consultations, and basic projects tend to unlock other, more complex ones in the same sector. Improving transportation infrastructure may assist in speeding the roll-out of new projects. Rule of law initiatives and democratic reforms can be useful too. However, aid projects are limited by available resources. Try to implement too much, too fast and inflation will increase—and with it the price of future projects. Increased spending also creates growing opportunities for corruption, which in turn can weaken political support. Anti-corruption measures are essential to avoid a vicious cycle of an increasingly corrupt and failing state.

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Civilian projects include basic health, education, and water/sanitation projects, transportation and other infrastructure, and and various economic initiatives.

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The government can invest in aid facilitation, administration, information, political and legal reforms, and policing, among others.

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A variety of additional military capabilities can be obtained for host nation forces (green) and their foreign allies (blue).

Different maps present different challenges. There are also several different possible governors, each with different strengths and weaknesses. The Warlord’s militia may seem a cheap and easy way to go after the insurgents, for example—but they often demand more money or start abusing the local population.

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The game provides players with plenty of information on this page, on the main map, and in periodic news updates.

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Development efforts are paying off!

While there are a number of things one could quibble about regarding the representation of insurgency here, Rebel Inc. is a surprisingly sophisticated treatment, superior to many commercial board games and even better than some of the stabilization training software I have seen in government use. The interface is clean, the controls are intuitive, and players are provided with substantial feedback on how they are doing and why. Plus it currently has an impressive 4.8/5 rating on iTunes, only costs $1.99, and can be played on your phone! What’s not to like? Indeed, I’m impressed enough that I’ll be assigning it in my Peacebuilding class next year.

 

They’re baaaaack! AFTERSHOCK and MaGCK at The Game Crafter

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AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game.

Having been unavailable for a few weeks, we are happy to report that The Game Crafter has new supplies of game pieces in stock and it is once again possible to order AFTERSHOCK and the Matrix Game Construction Kit.

Get yours while they last!

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The ISIS  CRISIS scenario from the Matrix Game Construction Kit.

 

Serious gaming with (post) secondary students: civil war at a cégep

The following piece was written for PAXsims by Jano Bourgeois (Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf), in collaboration with Daniel Beauregard.


Can you adapt a complex civil war simulation like Rex Brynen’s Brynania to an audience without specific conflict resolution/peacebuilding training? Is it possible to do it and have them perform it seriously and learn out of it? Those were the questions I had in mind when I decided to try, a few years ago, to introduce a Brynania-like civil war simulation for a cégep (secondary) course.

What is a C.É.G.E.P.?

In the province of Quebec (Canada), there is an intermediate education-level between high school and university. It is called a cégep (general and professional college). For pre-university programs, like the social science program in which I teach, the level is more or less equivalent to first year-university, although the disciplines studied are much more diverse. It is a general training in literature, philosophy, economics, psychology, history and sometimes political science, anthropology or sociology.

To my knowledge, there are no peacebuilding courses at the cégep level. However, there is an end of 2ndyear course named “Integrative activity” that has students apply what they have learned in two disciplines (such as economics, politics, history, anthropology, etc.) in a new context. A former student of mine, now a Ph.D. in cultural studies, once told me that he had read an academic paper mentioning that insurgent leaders had, on average, the equivalent of a cégep education (I never found this paper, if anyone knows about it I would love to get the reference!). For me, this was the trigger: my students could seriously simulate a civil war because they had the same educational attainment as many insurgent leaders (granted, this might not be true and I have no evidence to back me up, but I just needed an excuse to try something like Brynania).

What we do

Basically, the whole thing is a simplified Brynania civil war. There is a fictional setting in which the civil war is waged in a hybrid between roleplaying game and strategic wargame. My setting is called Brébouvie because it is taught at Brébeuf College.

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Figure 1: Map of Brébouvie, 2016.

Each student received a role to embody, resources to manage, and objectives to fulfill. Among these roles, we had the cabinet of the war-torn country, various rebel leaders, members of the civil society, neighbouring States, UN Security Council member states, humanitarian NGOs, international and local journalists, etc. Brynania heavily influenced the first edition because I had the opportunity to personify the Minister of Finance of the Brynanian government during my B.A. at McGill. Over time, I adapted the model to my pedagogical needs.

Having run this simulation over the past few years, I must say that students consider it extremely demanding and difficult… and they just love it! For the fall 2017 semester, 53% of the students, in a confidential and anonymous evaluation of the class, indicated that they had a “very high interest” in the course.  A usual comment is that it is too much work and way too engaging, but that they would not have it any other way. Eventually, a history teacher, Daniel Beauregard, who also teaches the integration activity course, joined me in this project. He brought refreshing ideas to the practice.

From a pedagogical point of view, my students do well in applying what they learned, especially in economics, political science, anthropology, sociology and history, to conduct credible operations on the ground. At the end of the semester, they must hand in a formal paper to summarize what previously acquired knowledge was useful and how they used it to fulfill their role during the simulation. Most of them manage to make the links between their college training and the actual conduct of a civil war. As a bonus, they learn how to make (or fail to make) decisions in a stressful and imperfect informational environment.

Obviously the depth of the student performance is not as thorough as the one attained with 3rdyear university students: treaties signed do not always respect the Vienna Convention on the Law of the Treaties, refugee camps management doesn’t go into the specific details of finding the right spot to avoid landslide and freshwater contamination, UN Security Council resolutions use “responsibility to protect” quite liberally. Overall, one has to remember that they are unspecialized cégep students, not professionals.

Our innovation

We tried many formulas for the simulation: in class only, in class and online for 12 hours a day over a 10 days period, email only, using matrix gaming mechanisms, using an actual board to move pieces, using only virtual maps, using a wiki, Moodle, or a blog to share information, etc.

However, our major innovation, the one for which I am proudest, is the way in which we now have the students build the conflict setting.

The idea is to start with a blank map and to add layers of complexity in cooperation with the students. We add natural resources, linguistic and ethnic zones, national and internal borders, religious zones of influence, trade routes, etc. We also write the history of the various states, insurgent groups and institutions present in the zone. We create the political regimes and their institutions, the state and structures of the economies, the relations with powerful States such as Russia, China, the United States, the United Kingdom and France, etc.

For each element added to the setting, students must justify it using a historical precedent or refer to a social science model or theory. The effect of this procedure is twofold: it forces them to go back to history and what they have learned in different disciplines and it makes the setting easier to understand without long hours of study.

Here is, visually, how my colleague Daniel Beauregard proceeds. First, he provides students with a blank map.

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Figure 2: Blank map, 2018.

The class then adds geographic features.

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Figure 3: Adding geographic features, 2018.

Next, political boundaries and ethnic groups are also added.

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Figure 4: Adding political and ethnic features, 2018.

The map is refined with trade routes and other details.

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Figure 5: Final round of mapmaking, 2018.

He finally prints a map and uses Matrix Gaming Construction Kit (MagCK) tokens and markers to manage the simulation.

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Figure 6: Printed map with tokens on it, 2018.

I would recommend this practice to engage students in the simulation as soon as the instructor is comfortable with the general way of running a simulation.

Concluding remarks

Can you adapt a complex civil war simulation like Brynen’s Brynania to a younger audience without specific conflict resolution/peacebuilding training? The answer is a resounding yes.

Is it possible to expect for cégep students the same level of performance as professionals or graduate students? Obviously not.

Is it possible to obtain a serious performance and generate learning? Again, yes without a doubt.

One of the advantages of serious simulations is that it somehow self adjusts to the level of the participants. In my view, it is a powerful and flexible pedagogical tool worth exploring.

 

Jano Bourgeois teaches political science at Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf, Montréal.
Daniel Beauregard teaches history at Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf, Montréal.

 

We Are Coming, Nineveh! game development update

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One of the playtest copies.

Lately we have had a chance to run more playtest games of We Are Coming Nineveh, the tactical/operational-level wargame of the 2017 Mosul campaign being developed by Juliette Le Ménahèze, Harrison Brewer, Brian Train, and myself for Nuts! Publishing. It’s all coming along nicely, and feedback has been very positive indeed.

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Playtesting at Connections UK. Juliette looks on as Phil Pournelle advances Iraqi forces towards the Old City. War is thirsty work.

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More playtesting at Connections UK.

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Counter Terrorism Service and Emergency Response Division troops break into the heavily-defended Old City. To the west and north, units of the Iraqi Army’s 9th Armoured and 16th Infantry Divisions close a circle of steel around their foe.

The (area movement) map and (block-based) combat system are working very well: they are fast and intuitive, and nicely model the tempo of the actual campaign. Consequently, most of our recent tweaks involve Capability cards and Event cards.

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A game is about to begin at McGill University. Daesh has deployed most of its veteran units to the Old City, while using a screen of militia and IEDs to slow and disrupt the ISF offensive. If the ISF can cut the roads to the west and north it will hamper Daesh resupply.

The former represent what it is each side chooses to bring to the fight, above and beyond their core units. In the case of Daesh (ISIS), this includes such things as:

  • arms caches
  • IED factories
  • a media production centre
  • mortars
  • snipers
  • technicals
  • makeshift drones
  • tunnel networks and “stay behind” forces
  • primitive chemical weapons
  • “mouseholes” and fortifications
  • additional Improvised Explosive Devices of various sort
  • human shields
  • child soldiers
  • MANPADS
  • better infantry training
  • local spy networks
  • smuggling networks

As for the Iraqi security Forces, they can call upon (amongst other things):

  • additional military units (16th Infantry Division, Popular Mobilization Forces)
  • Coalition air and artillery support, as well as UAVs (drones) and forward observers
  • Coalition training
  • Iranian advisors
  • Iraqi air and artillery support
  • HUMINT (human intelligence)
  • SIGINT (signals intelligence)
  • enhanced EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) capability
  • additional ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) assets
  • tighter Rules of Engagement (to reduce collateral damage)
  • expanded humanitarian assistance operations
  • field hospital
  • improved logistics
  • improved coordination
  • airmobile and river-crossing operations
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Prior to deployment, Brian considers what additional capabilities he wants for the forthcoming battle.

Each side is given 30 points to spend on such capabilities before the game starts, and they can tailor their expenditure to suit their campaign plan and preferred tactics. This dramatically enhances the replay value of We Are Coming, Nineveh!, since every game can be very different depending on how Daesh has chosen to defend its positions and what assets and capabilities the Iraqi side chooses to deploy.

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The ISF gets lucky break: human intelligence (HUMINT) reveals the location of a senior Daesh military commander, who is promptly killed in a daring strike by Iraqi attack helicopters.

The Event cards are triggered by dice tolls during ground combat. Some generate collateral damage, especially when fighting is taking place in the densely-packed Old City. Some reflect the challenges of military operations in urban terrain: troops might get lost, pause to recover casualties, encountered unexploded ordnance, or have other encounters. Others present various tactical vignettes. Do you risk accepting the surrender of Daesh fighters, knowing there might be a suicide bomber amongst them? Do you open fire on the vehicle travelling towards your checkpoint? Does an officer risk death to rescue a child caught in the crossfire? Finally, still other cards reward success or capabilities—if the ISF has invested in improved coordination, for example, they’ll encounter fewer problems when Iraqi Army, Interior Ministry, or Counter Terrorism Service (“Golden Division”) forces attempt joint operations.

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Iraqi forces (green) clear the last Daesh units (black) out of the Old City. In this case, the ISF minimized indirect fires and air support, and instead invested in better training and logistics. Their careful campaign was slower than the real one, but kept casualties and collateral damage down.

Victory is determined by three metrics: the time it takes to liberate Mosul, the casualties taken by the ISF, and the collateral damage (both physical and political) inflicted on the city. At the start of the game, each side secretly nominates the metric that it wishes to emphasize in its political messaging. We have also built in a system of narrative description, allowing players to gauge their progress against the real military campaign.

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Juliette, Brian, Rex, and Harrison.

We hope to have the main game finalized by the end of December, at which point we will deliver it to Nuts! for further development We are also developing a solitaire system to allow solo play, but that will take a few months more of work. Keep your eye on PAXsims for further details!
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Teaching serious games at Carleton University

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My colleagues at Carleton University recently hosted me in Ottawa for two days to teach a professional development workshop on “Serious Games for Policy Development and Capacity Building” for the Office of Professional Training and Development at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. I’m happy to report that it all seemed to go very well.

The eighteen students in the workshop varied widely in terms of past experience, ranging from game designers and professional wargamers to those new to serious gaming. The group’s backgrounds and interests were equally varied: national defence, public safety, international development, peacebuilding, housing policy, employment and social development, and communications.

While much of what I had to say was pitched at an introductory level, none of the more experienced folks seemed too bored. Indeed, they were all very generous in offering their ideas and insights to the group.

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Talking about serious games.

On the first day, I provided an overview of how games have been used to better understand public policy and national security challenges, drawing upon both historical cases and my own serious gaming experience. We then moved on to look at a range of key issue areas, including:

  • setting objectives
  • resources and infrastructure
  • approaches
  • scenarios and roles
  • models, rules, and procedures
  • players
  • game control, facilitation, and data collection
  • prebriefing and debriefing
  • analysis

After lunch we discussed seminar and matrix games. To illustrate the latter, we played through a few turns of the Reckoning of Vultures scenario from the Matrix Game Construction Kit. While hopefully not too directly related to anyone’s official duties—the game involves  a dying President and coup plotting by his would-be successors in the fictional Republic of Matrixia—it nicely highlighted the ways in which matrix games can encourage both innovative thinking and critical analysis. It was also rather fun, for the participants turned out to be a rather cunning and devious lot!

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Plotting and counter-plotting in Matrixia.

That evening, about a dozen of us from the workshop congregated downtown for dinner and casual gaming at The Loft Board Game Lounge.

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Gaming at The Loft.

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AFTERSHOCK underway.

The following day we discussed interactive narrative (“choose your own adventure”) games, a variety of advanced gaming techniques, gaming pathologies, online resources, and materials and graphics.

Game Lab.pngWe also held a “game lab” session in which workshop participants were broken into three groups and asked to develop a serious game proposal. Three very good sets of ideas soon emerged:

  • An election game, highlight the role of contemporary media in influencing key political demographics.
  • A foresight and brainstorming (matrix) game, exploring the positive and negative effects of artificial intelligence on differing groups and sectors in Canada (business, workers, the tech sector, government).
  • A matrix game exploring the public policy, urban development, economic, and planning issues around the proposed effort to move the Ottawa Senators hockey team to a new arena in the LeBreton Flats area near downtown.

We then discussed the strengths and weaknesses of each proposal, offering suggestions on how the preliminary design might be further refined.

The workshop ended with a broader discussion, and few final observations. For those who are interested, the full set of workshop slides can be downloaded here (81MB pdf).

The participants were all enthusiastic and brimming with ideas, which made it a really enjoyable two days. I’m very grateful to Bryan Henderson of NPSIA-PT&D who organized the workshop. Special thanks are also due to fellow PAXsims editors Tom Fisher and Major Tom Mouat (Defence Academy of the UK), and to Colonel Jerry Hall (US Army). Tom, Tom, and Jerry not only facilitated the various game lab sessions on the second day, but the four of us also shared a single large suite at Les Suites Hotel—temporarily rendering it something of extra-dimensional nexus of global matrix gaming experience.

Stephen Downes-Martin joins PAXsims as associate editor

I am pleased to announce that Dr. Stephen Downes-Martin is joining PAXsims as one of our associate editors.

Stephen Downes-Martin.jpegDr Stephen Downes-Martin is a Research Fellow at the US Naval War College and is an independent scholar researching theory and practice of wargaming and other methods to support decision makers at the strategic, operational and tactical levels of warfare and business. A research focus is “Puppet Mastery”, how to manipulate such methods to deceive decision makers, how decision makers misuse such methods to deceive themselves, how to detect such attempts and protect decision makers from them. He has a PhD in relativistic quantum field theory from London University, a Master of Advanced Studies in Mathematics from Cambridge University, and a Masters (with Distinction) in National Security and Strategic Studies from the Naval War College. His full bio, publications list and downloads are available here.

Stephen has been tireless in encouraging, supporting, and sometimes lambasting the wargaming community to pay great attention to sponsor-designer relations, player dynamics, game analysis, and methodology more generally. He has been instrumental in several recent major collaborative projects, including the 2017 MORS working group report on the validity and utility of wargaming, a Connections Game Lab report on “How can we credibly wargame cyber at an unclassified level?” (2018), another Game Lab report on “How can we avoid risky and dishonesty shifts in seminar wargames?“(2018), and a truly epic Connections working group report on in-stride adjudication (2018). Stephen will also be one of the featured speakers at the February 2019 Connections North interdisciplinary wargaming conference in Montreal. We’re pleased to have him on board.

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