PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 17 January 2017

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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. This latest edition was coauthored with Devin Ellis. Thanks are also due to Paul Strong, Yuna Wong, Tom Mouat, and James Sterrett for pointing out some of the other items we have included. We always welcome your suggestions for material to include, so keep them coming!

PAXsims

hdr-usni.gifThe ongoing response to the Deputy SecDef initiative on revitalizing wargaming continues as different services, staffs, and organizations get their views into writing slowly but surely. One of the latest is this piece by CAPT Dale Rielage, in the US Naval Institute’s Proceedings magazine: “Wargaming Must Get Red Right.”

The piece is fairly basic in its observation of the link between quality red cells and quality wargame results, but it does include some interesting tidbits, such as a description of PACFLEET’s current red teaming practices:

There already are efforts across the fleet and key shore commands to increase the fidelity of Red play in specific events. Pacific Fleet has established an in-house Red Team. Dubbed the Pacific Naval Aggressor Team, it takes the role of adversary decision makers in fleet-sponsored war games. The team is drawn from N2/N39 personnel, who are assigned specific country and warfare areas that fit their backgrounds and experiences. They keep this focus area throughout their tours, building experience and insight. Depending on the requirements of the game being supported, the team is augmented by subject-matter experts from across the intelligence and operational communities.

Devin Ellis

PAXsims

The “Working Group 3: Adjudication” report from the October 2016 MORS special meeting on wargaming is now available from here.

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The key recommendations of the Working Group were as follows:

  • The Wargaming Community and Senior Leadership get together and address the institutional barriers thrown up by DoD to the professional development of the wargaming community.
  • The Wargaming Community’s chains of command provide time and resources for adjudication and wargaming professional development.
  • The Wargaming Community develop and document educational and training materials, including an adjudication bibliography.
  • The Wargaming Community and Senior Leadership systematically identify which barriers and their possible mitigations are relevant to the unique circumstances of each organization that sponsors or does wargaming and applies the mitigations to the barriers.
  • The wargaming community continues a rigorous and disciplined continuation of this workshop’s results, both in their own organizations and together at workshops and conferences.
  • MORS sets up and maintains web sites that support each Working Group to maintain momentum.

PAXsims

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As AFP reports, the incoming US presidential administration has been playing games—crisis games, that is:

Members of Donald Trump’s cabinet arrived at the White House Friday for a series of crisis simulations designed to prepare them for taking office next week.

Current cabinet secretaries as well as Trump’s national security advisor, Mike Flynn, and his state and defense picks Rex Tillerson and James Mattis are among those taking part.

The White House said the tabletop exercises will go over previous crises like natural disasters and national security emergencies and game out hypothetical future scenarios.

“Some (are) related to domestic emergency response, the response to a natural disaster or a significant weather event, for example,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest.

“It also will include some foreign policy and national security exercises as well.”

One wonders if they included simulated random tweets from the President (and no, that’s not a real tweet above).

PAXsims

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In partnership with the Migration Policy Institute, Games for Change is hosting a $10,000 migrant game design challenge that hopes to inspire the creation of a digital game that connects existing and migrating communities:

The integration of migrant populations has always been an important issue faced by many countries all around the world. Integration is a two-way street, with native-born and immigrant populations both experiencing significant change, challenges and opportunity. How can a game help people understand and work through concerns over perceived job competition and changes in the cultural fabric while recognizing the economic, linguistic, and cultural benefits that can accrue to the broader society when immigrants can also succeed? How can a game experience emphasize community engagement to help migrants and their neighbors improve their understanding of each other?

You’ll find full details here. The deadline for submission is February 15.

PAXsims

On January 11, Dr. Yuna Wong (RAND) gave a presentation on the Joint Irregular Warfare Analytic Baseline (JIWAB) study to the MORS Wargame Community of Practice. I was teaching at the time and missed her presentation, but you’ll find here slides here (ppt).

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Yuna is also the author, together with Michael Bailey, Karen Grattan, C Steve Stephens, Robert Sheldon, and William Inserra, of an article on “The use of multiple methods in the Joint Irregular Warfare Analytic Baseline (JIWAB) study” in the Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation: Applications, Methodology, Technology.

The Joint Irregular Warfare Analytic Baseline (JIWAB) study was a multi-year effort by the U.S. Marine Corps to demonstrate analytic methods better suited to irregular warfare than quantitative computer models and simulations. Multiple methods were used in combination to create and develop scenarios, understand conflict drivers and mitigators, and create potential U.S. responses. This article discusses the use of these methods, which included approaches such as general morphological analysis, wargaming, adaptations of conflict assessment frameworks, and others. This article also describes the larger context for the study within the wider defense analytic community.

PAXsims

In the Naval War College Review 7, 1 (Winter 2017) John T. Hanley Jr. examines “Changing DoD’s Analysis Paradigm: The Science of War Gaming and Combat/Campaign Simulation.” It’s a very useful piece, and it is worth quoting his main conclusions at length:

The extent to which pseudoexperiments, whether war games or combat/ campaign simulations, are scientific depends wholly on the character of their execution. “Electronic computers, game-theoretic models, and statistical formulas are but instruments after all; it is not they that produce scientific results but the investigator who uses them.”Neither type of simulation is inherently more scientific than the other. The principal difference is that combat/campaign simulation is analytical—reducing the problem to constituent pieces—while war gaming emphasizes synthesis—ensuring all relevant factors are considered, including how they work together.

War gaming and large-scale computer-based combat/campaign simulation differ little in their inability to predict quantitative outcomes. The scientific value of the pseudoexperiment lies in the objectivity, rigor, and usefulness of the theory the pseudoexperiment represents. This includes the motivations, tastes and beliefs, and expertise of all the participants, including the client.

War gaming has a record of anticipating factors that largely govern outcomes, thus preventing surprise. Because DoD has used combat/campaign simulation for quantitative prediction, its performance at comparing quantitative results of combat models with actual combat has been less accurate and less reliable than that of war gaming that explored the processes and nonquantitative features that would affect a campaign most. Whereas those commanding and conducting operations rarely have the motivation and skills to become deeply involved in combat/campaign modeling, they can make the time and do have the skills to participate in war gaming. Repeated war gaming can provide firsthand experiences to limit surprise and facilitate recognitive decision making that allows rapid adaptation to emerging situations.

Using governing factors uncovered through war gaming, detailed computer models, campaign analyses, or other techniques to create simple models of the phenomena requires much more analytical skill than adding detailed models of additional processes to existing computer models. Simpler models provide greater understanding with appropriate precision than complicated computer models with large numbers of variables that give an appearance of precision but whose range of uncertainty is difficult to estimate and grows with the uncertainty of each parameter added and the square root of the number of variables.

Returning to the roots of operations research—observing, modeling operations, and collecting data in the field—is an essential aspect of a cycle of research. Work in the field yields data and knowledge that increase understanding of which concepts actually work and which do not, and provides essential data for use in computer and war-gaming simulation.

Although the discussion of questions and possibilities raised by developments in complexity sciences is incomplete, it suggests a need to reexamine combat models and to extend analytical techniques to add the rigor of appropriate techniques to combat simulation.

The Pentagon needs to overhaul its analysis paradigm if it is to meet growing security challenges with limited budgets. Overhauling the Pentagon’s analysis paradigm again will require interdisciplinary teams of scientists—from both hard and social sciences, and with an appreciation for the humanities—interacting in analysis campaigns and cycles of research. Client and contractor use and abuse of need-to-know security barriers and proprietary restrictions on studies present formidable obstacles to implementing scientific standards in DoD studies.

PAXsims

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Wikistrat recent published the results of a role-playing simulation examining Rethinking US Navy Partnerships.

Between August 15 and August 22, 2016, Wikistrat ran an online simulation to identify existing and prospective partnerships for the U.S. Navy (USN), outline the main challenges in achieving success in those partnerships, propose solutions for overcoming those challenges, and red-team the proposed solutions.

Participating analysts were divided into two groups:

  • Group Alpha: 17 analysts role-played the U.S. Navy
  • Group Bravo: 20 analysts role-played prospective partners

Each of the groups progressed simultaneously through four rounds, building out a framework based upon problem-solving methodology.

  1. Potential Partner Identification
  2. Proposing Solutions to Noted Obstacles
  3. Solution Red-Teaming
  4. Strategic Takeaways

PAXsims

At ExtraNewsFeed, Mintaro Oba discusses “How Settlers of Catan Explains International Relations.”

Besides the simple fact that it’s fun, Settlers of Catan (together with gin rummy, which I’ll discuss in another post) is the best representation of international relations in game form. And it raises fascinating questions about the nature of rules and how we create them — questions that are unfolding on the international stage today.

Cooperation in a Competitive World

Some games, like Pandemic, are almost entirely cooperative. On the other end of the spectrum are games like Risk — either entirely zero-sum (“my gain is someone else’s loss”), based too much on chance, or both.

Settlers gets it just right. It’s basically competitive and zero-sum; you have to build and grow your settlements, cities, and roads to get to ten points before anyone else. There’s a finite amount of the space and resources necessary to expand. The robber and certain bonus cards allow players to go on the offensive against other players. There’s a good chance players will be at each others’ throats as the game winds on.

But on the margins, economic interdependence allows for some cooperation. Players can only start off with a certain amount of the necessary resources. Some territories are more productive than others. Yet at various points in the game, any player will need brick, wood, iron ore, etc. So, players trade their comparative advantages; a player with a surplus of iron ore can exchange with a player who has a surplus of brick. Both benefit.

I’m not at all sure that it is the best simulation of international relations in game form. Moreover, despite apparent mutual benefits from trade—and unlike real global politics—Settlers of Catan is still a game which can only have one winner. In this sense, while trade may appear mutually beneficial, if it shifts your opponent closer to winning than it shifts you it’s a bad move. Ultimately, that’s a variant of non-cooperative, near-zero-sum play.

Having said all that, semi-cooperative game design is an important game design challenge precisely because semi-cooperation is so common in many real-world situations. You’ll find my thoughts on the issue in this presentation I made last year to the RAND Center for Gaming.

PAXsims

charting-a-course-cover.jpgNational Defense University has recently published Charting a Course: Strategic Choices for a New Administration, edited by R.D. Hooker, Jr. In a chapter on “The Future of Conflict,” T.X. Hammes emphasizes the importance of wargaming in examing emerging issues and challenges:

As a power projection nation, our deployment options may become more limited. We have to think through the implications of forward basing in theater versus basing in the United States and deploying only for a crisis. Our enemies and allies see the increasing density of A2/AD systems globally. It is essential we modify our planning accordingly. Wargaming must examine the operational impacts of fighting a variety of enemies with long-range sea and air precision strike. China will not be the only power to own such systems. Just as importantly, wargaming must explore the political implications when an enemy can threaten other nations that support our deployment chain. (Japan, for example, is crucial to any effort to help defend South Korea and could easily be targeted by the North Korean regime in time of war.) Accordingly, we must seek methods to attack an opponent’s strategy rather than simply destroying its forces.

We need wide-ranging research and supporting analysis as well as wargames to address key questions. Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work’s memorandum on wargaming is a very strong first step. Continuing research is required to answer a wide range of questions:

  • Most importantly, how can strategy neutralize potential opponents’ strategies? For instance, how do we counter the perception that China may be able to exclude U.S. forces from the region? What steps can we take to assure allies that in fact we can honor our treaty obligations?
  • How do we protect those nations providing support as we do so—in particular, the politically sensitive targets that can be attacked with long-range, precise, but relatively low-explosive-weight weapons?
  • If we forward deploy, how dispersed will forward forces have to be to survive? How much would we have to invest in hardening forward bases versus investing in protecting stateside bases and building the lift necessary to deploy?
  • What are the political/alliance costs if we choose to station fewer forces forward?
  • Are we willing to employ long-range strike from the United States if we know the enemy can reply in kind? • Once forces are deployed, how do they operate in the presence of swarms of smart weapons?
  • Do we need to deploy more forces forward to ensure they are there for the fight? Or should we just preposition the equipment and supplies? Or are both supplies and forces safer out of the potential theater of operation?

PAXsims

JPSE.jpgThe Journal of Political Science Education, now with a new editorial team under the leadership of Victor Asal, is looking for contributions:

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (editors: Mitchell Brown and Shane Nordyke): Submissions should use the highest standard of evidence in writing about evidence-based approaches to teaching practices and encourage assessment of such teaching and practices. Submissions can be diverse in terms of topic, analytic approach, and levels of analysis, but must maintain systematic methodological approaches. Length of manuscript may range from 3,000-8,000 words, and research notes between 2,000-5,000 words. Authors of accepted papers will be required to make datasets publicly available online through their choice of venue or provide a compelling rationale if they are unable to do so.

Political Science Instruction (editor: Joseph Roberts): Submissions should focus on innovative teaching cases that discuss useful pedagogy, including strategies, games, and experiential learning in teaching political science to diverse audiences. They should also be organized around real classroom problems and potential solutions.  Submissions may range in length from 2,000-4,000 words.

Reflections on Teaching and the Academy (editor: Mark Johnson): Submissions should be from experienced scholar-teachers that focus on reflections on timely and important teaching topics that include transitioning between institutional types, teaching under-prepared students, training graduate students for teaching careers, and other issues. Submissions may range in length from 1,000-2,000 words.

Books, Teaching Tools, & Educational Resources (editor: J. Cherie Strachan)Submissions should help readers identify available new books, software and resources, and to improve classroom and co-curricular learning experiences through reviews of textbooks, pedagogy tools and other related resources. Submissions may range in length from 500-2,000 words.

You’ll find more information at the Active Learning in Political Science blog.

PAXsims

Kathleen Mercury has a useful website on game design, largely aimed at designing strategy games for children. You’ll find it at http://www.kathleenmercury.com.

PAXsims

Here’s another useful resource: Exercise Design and Administration: Just the Basics (2005) by Kerry Fosher of the Northern New England Metropolitan Medical Response System.

The purpose of this document is to help you think through the decisions you need to make about exercise design and administration. It will also give you ideas on how to make the documents you need to implement those decisions. I recognize that the formal guidelines set out in other places may not always be realistic for reasons of time, staffing, or money. I hope that this document will help you think through the critical planning issues and get the most out of whatever resources you can muster.Throughout, you will find that I emphasize the need for you to develop your own system of exercise planning, one that meets your needs and can be truly effective without adding a lot to existing organization or resources. If you can read nothing else, read the segment called “Early Decisions” located in the section on Planning Committees. It will set you on the course to having clearly defined goals, responsibilities, expectations, and reporting.

This document does not replace guidance provided by other agencies. It is intended to help you think through your exercise process, which may include the need to follow specific guidelines from regulatory or granting organizations*. It is divided into 12 sections.

  1. RECORD KEEPING
  2. STAKEHOLDERS
  3. PLANNING COMMITTEES
  4. DESIGN
  5. OBJECTIVES
  6. PUBLIC INFORMATION
  7. SCENARIO
  8. EVALUATION
  9. CONTROL
  10. EXERCISE SUPPORT AND FACILITATION
  11. EXERCISE INFORMATION PACKETS
  12. ASSESSMENT AND INTEGRATION OF RESULTS

Each section contains suggestions for planning and documentation, but you will certainly find other things that need tracking. The suggestions should be used as starting points. Depending on your needs, you may want to adapt other organizations’ materials or create your own planning documents.The most important thing is that the information is captured in a form that exercise planners can easily use and update.

PAXsims

Finally, continuing the theme of “stuff that isn’t new but I hadn’t read before,” how about putting your feet up and enjoying the fine plot elements and nuanced character development of the NATO Guide for Judgement-Based Operational Analysis in Defence Decision Making (2012)?

Judgement-based OA (called ‘soft’ OA in the academic world to contrast with ‘hard’, mathematics-based OA) is increasingly used to support defence and security decision making both at national and NATO levels. Such decisions need to be defensible when subject to scrutiny and decision makers must have confidence that the material presented to them is the best available so that the decision risk is contained. However, judgement-based analysis cannot be subjected to conventional tests of mathematical rigour, so an alternative strategy is needed.

This volume is directed to the clients of such judgement-based OA studies. These include decision makers, study sponsors, end users and other stakeholders. Its purpose is to:

  • Create an understanding of what judgement-based OA is, and what it can offer;
  • Identify the requirements for the client group in sponsoring and guiding judgement-based OA studies; and
  • Show how a judgement-based OA study is carried out in order to maximise the validity, credibility and acceptance of the study and its outcomes.

The analyst-oriented volume of the Guide (“Code of Best Practice for ‘Soft’ Operational Analysis”, the CoBP itself) describes the overall study methodology, the study process, the ‘actors’ involved and their roles and responsibilities, the achievement of validity, credibility and acceptance, and the communication with the client. The TG proposes that its work be complemented by an education program to introduce the opportunities offered by judgement-based OA to decision-making bodies within NATO and Partner Nations, and to show how to make best use of it. It is expected that once published, the CoBP will be reviewed and revised in the light of experience in practice. A third volume is a brief summarising brochure for (high-level, ‘executive’) decision makers explaining key aspects.

The adoption of the Guide is expected to increase significantly the acceptance of judgement-based studies within the military and defence-oriented operational analyst communities. This will, in turn, be beneficial to the quality of defence decision making through the enhancement of the versatility of OA support, to both operations and in longer term support of strategy and defence planning.

PAXsims

Not every wargame leads to an actual real-world nuclear crisis—but the Able Archer 83 exercise conducted by SACEUR may have, and remains the subject of much debate (apologies to Peter Perla and everyone else who is going to quibble with me, I know Able Archer is more accurately a live exercise, not a ‘wargame’).

Book-259.jpgNate Jones of the National Security Archive has just come out with a new book which makes a huge and important contribution to the analysis of the so-called “War Scare” of 1982-84. He publishes and analyzes for the first time a trove of newly declassified documents showing that the Soviets actually were much more alarmed than has sometimes been argued at the beginning of the Reagan administration – especially around issues of a decapitating first strike, which seemed very real to them with the potential placement of the early generation of cruise missiles in Western Europe (TLDR: their range was not sufficient to neutralize key Soviet strategic missile sites, but WAS sufficient to hit Moscow—so it seemed like a departure from Mutually Assured Destruction, and a move towards first strike capability).

The centerpiece document is the 1990 review by the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB), which concluded that the intelligence community had indeed misunderstood or ignored signs of Soviet alarm, and systematically downplayed the risks of escalation in official assessments. It goes on to explore some of the ways in which the Able Archer exercise fit into developing Soviet analysis of what cover for a U.S. first strike might look like (including some of the bomber deployments used), and led to alarming potential escalation.

Beyond the overall theme, two interesting notes for wargamers: one of the declassified documents is the AAR from Able Archer 83 – a very interesting read to those of us nerds out there, with great capture of the scenario, as well as the lessons learned from the game managers. Also, this conclusion from the PFIAB analysis:

In cases of great importance to the survival of our nation, and especially where there is important contradictory evidence, the Board believes that intelligence estimates must be cast in terms of alternative scenarios that are subjected to comparative risk assessment.

Without reflecting on any subsequent chapters in U.S. intelligence analysis where alternative scenarios and risk assessments might have been warranted… I think most of our readership would agree that sounds like a call to arms for more red-teaming and more gaming!

Devin Ellis

PAXsims

What the world really needs is an urban snow clearance simulation game. Fortunately the CBC and City of Montreal have made that easy, with this lovely hex-based map of where your car is most likely to be towed to make way for the snowplows:

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Consider it a PAXsims design challenge!  We’ll send a  souvenir bottle of melted slush to the winner.

Request for feedback: Teaching wargame design at the US Army Command & General Staff College

PAXsims is happy to post this request for feedback on behalf of Dr. James Sterrett, Directorate of Simulation Education (DSE) at the US Army Command & General Staff College (CGSC). Comments may be left below or emailed to him directly.


 

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Michael Dunn and I are creating a Fundamentals of Wargame Design elective at CGSC. This course will first run in the spring of 2017, in two iterations. We seek constructive feedback on our course concepts while we still have a little time to correct course.

The students in this course will be U.S. Army Functional Area 57 (FA57 Simulation Operations) officers, plus other interested students attending CGSC. FA57 students will take the complementary elective on Exercise Design at the same time.

Learning Objective:

Students taking this course will design and create a prototype manual wargame. By doing this, we intend them to learn not only the process of designing a wargame, so they can design other games later, but also to begin to come to grips with the art of wargame design. In addition, we believe that designing wargames will make them better users of wargames, more aware of the design decisions behind the curtain and better able to select the best tool for the task they may have at hand.

We are still debating if it is better to have students do the project alone, or in small groups.

Thus, our current overarching Learning Objective is:

  • Apply the wargame development process. Application will include:
    • Students will learn the process of developing a wargame by creating a workable draft prototype. Students will demonstrate the prototype in class along with a presentation explaining their logic for its design choices.

 

Defining “Wargame”

We define “wargame” very broadly, relying on both Peter Perla’s definition:

 “A warfare model or simulation in which the flow of events shapes, and is shaped by, decisions made by a human player or players during the course of those events.” (Peter Perla, The Art of Wargaming, p. 280, 2012 edition)

…and on the Army Modeling & Simulations Office’s definition:

 “War game: A simulation game in which participants seek to achieve a specified military objective given pre-established resources and constraints”

Thus, we are not limiting the course to Title X wargames, or research wargames, or testing wargames, or Military Decision-Making Process Step 4 Course of Action Analysis Wargaming, or any other subtype… from the perspective of this course, all of these fall inside the big tent of wargaming.

 

Constraints

Inevitably, we are operating within constraints of space and time.

We will have at most 16 students per class, and must plan each class being full.

The course will consist of 12 session, each 2 hours long. There will be 2 or 3 sessions per week and the course will last for 4 to 6 weeks.

We recognize up front that we have limited time, and this necessarily limits the quality of the product the students can produce. We have no expectation of a polished, publication-ready project. Instead, the aim point is a workable first draft, with parts in place and comprehensible logic behind them, which would form the basis for ongoing testing and iterative design if more time were available.

 

Key concepts

Our high level view of the design process is shown below. We intend the students to complete at least one round of design and testing. More would be ideal, but a single round is the necessary minimum.

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For our classes, we are treating all wargames as being a system of systems, in a “STARS” model, with those systems being:

  • Space structuring assets’ positional relation to each other
  • Time structuring both movement, combat, and decision opportunities
  • Assets that players control
  • Resolution of how assets interact
  • Systems that tie the other four systems together

 

Planned Lessons

An overview of our current plan for each of the sessions; this overview will be followed by a more detailed look at sessions 1 and 2.

  1. Introduction to the course and its objectives; explain the project they must complete; introduction to game design process, which is their roadmap to completing the project; and to the STARS model.
  2.  Modelling Space: Discussion of terrain modelling; includes direct examples: hexes, squares, areas, terrain boards, point-to-point, tracks, non-spatial maps. Examples of multiple types in use at once.   Issue of scale – need to set to key decision loop and how scale then drives other considerations
  3.  Modelling Time: Discussion of turn structures; includes direct examples.   How turn structure dictates decision structures and C2 during play; how it relates back to the spatial model.
  4.  Modelling Assets: Various ways of modelling commanded assets from the very detailed to the very abstract: tracks & points to subsystem modelling. Numerous direct examples.
  5.  Modelling Effects: Various ways of resolving the outcome of actions: CRT, dice pools, opposed die rolls, card draws, card play; modifiers for modeled factors.
  6.  Quick Intro To Basic Probability – computations for dice, multiple dice, competing dice, cards with and without replacement; CRTs vs dice pools vs cards.
  7.  Putting It All Together: Overarching design paradigms: imposing limits (or not!) on player control of own forces through systems.
  8.  Testing & Iteration: Introduction to testing, blind testing, and sorting through feedback.
  9.  Consultation & Testing Time – in the classroom.
  10.  Consultation & Testing Time – in the classroom.
  11.  Final project presentations
  12.  Final project presentations

In addition to their other requirements, students in this elective will be required to participate in 75% of the Brown Bag Gaming sessions that are held during the elective, in order to increase their exposure to a variety of wargames and design approaches.

We are considering requiring additional student reading, with titles under consideration being Perla’s Art of Wargaming, Sabin’s Simulating War, and Koster’s Theory of Fun. The potential problem is the lack of time; one potential way around this is to assign a chunk of each to one or more students, and make them responsible for a summary to the class on their piece.

 

Session 1 in more detail

The room is set up with the games before students arrive and students are expected to have read the rules before the class begins.

  •  10 Minutes: Introduction to the class and similar initial admin
  •  45 Minutes: Play a wargame. We are currently leaning towards Frank Chadwick’s Battle for Moscow, with the expectation that students will complete 3 or 4 turns. Battle for Moscow includes a large number of features we can draw on in subsequent discussion, and is in print through Victory Point Games.
  •  10 Minutes: Break. Students are asked to come up with one change they would make to Battle for Moscow in order to improve it, and to return from the break ready to explain, briefly,
    • What the change is
    • Why the change improves Battle for Moscow
    • Why the improvement makes Battle for Moscow better for a specific purpose
  • 15 minutes: Selected students present their changes. We point out that by going through this thought process, all of them have made the step from players/consumers to designers/creators. Now let’s look at the process.

pic706628_md.jpgWe intend to select students to comment in class discussions (at least initially – balancing this against getting a wide discussion is important), instead of using volunteers, and to use a different selection mechanism each session. Thus Day 1 would be rolling 1 die, Day 2 rolling multiple dice, Day 3 pulling names from a hat without replacement, Day 4 calling on them by date of rank, and so on; possibly even handing them the cards to bid on who speaks next in the manner of Friedrich. The intent is to ensure the students experience some of the resolution mechanisms we will discuss in sessions 5 and 6, even though some of the demonstrations may take place after session 6.

  • 30 minutes: Present and explain the development model, the STARS model, and the project they will each undertake.

Assignment for session 2:

  1. Come up with your initial concept and email it to the instructor. Answer these questions:
    • What do you want this wargame to do?
    • What role will the players have?
    • What are the key decisions/dilemmas/problems they must wrestle with?
    • What significant assets will they control?
    • What kinds of interactions are important?
    • What kinds of terrain influence those interactions?
    • How frequently do the players make major decisions?
  2. Start your research: Find and read something relevant to your project.

 

Session 2 in more detail

We expect each of sessions 2 through 8 to be split roughly in half. In the first half of each session, we will show and discuss various relevant examples. In the second half, students will brainstorm and discuss ideas applying the day’s focus to their project.

Session 2 covers Space.

Opening question: How would you map Wall Street?

A strictly spatial map of Wall Street is great if you want to move troops through it. However, you might also need to map conflict on Wall Street by financial connections, personal connections, Internet links, political influences, and so on. Which of these are more important to model depends on what you want to model.

For the rest of the initial hour of the class, we expect to present, with examples:

  • Miniatures terrain as direct representation, with a discussion that typical Digital Terrain Elevation Data is essentially the same approach
  • Hexes and squares, including grain effects
  • Zones of Control
  • Areas (including Guns of Gettysburg for incorporating Line of Sight into the area model)
  • Things inside hexes, squares, and areas
  • Things on the edges of hexes, squares, and areas
  • Point to Point
  • Maps that are not “real space” – VPG’s High Treason courtroom; Sierra Madre’s High Frontier ΔV map (we are looking for more good examples here!)

Why space and time inter-relate:

  • Scale sets the timing of decisions in conjunction with the Time model
  • Units per space on the map defines force density model and can be used to create traffic issues

During their break, students are asked to think about how they will model space in their project.

For the second half of class, we discuss student’s initial model concepts.

Assignment for Session 3:

  1. Refine your intended model of space. Start working on your map. (We will provide files and printouts for hex paper, and access to Paint, Powerpoint, and Photoshop.)
  2. Continue your research: Find and read something relevant to your project.

James Sterrett

2016 in review

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I’m happy to report that 2016 was, in terms of readership, PAXsims’ best year yet: we had 59,883 visitors last year, and 111,178 page views. Since the website was founded we’ve posted some 1,185 items, and our all-time number of page views is now rapidly approaching half a million.

In 2016 PAXsims readers came from an impressive 189 countries and territories. The US accounted for by far the largest share of these:

  1. United States (46.7%)
  2. UK (9.4%)
  3. Canada (9.3%)
  4. Netherlands (3.9%)
  5. Germany (3.1%)
  6. France (2.5%)
  7. Australia (2.1%)
  8. Italy (2.0%)
  9. Spain (1.3%)
  10. Russia (1.2%)

However, we also had visitors from such places as Yemen (3), East Timor (1), Iran (1), Syria (1), and North Korea (1).

Our most popular new postings in 2013 were on RAND wargaming the defense of the Baltics, the US Army War College’s strategic wargame program, Jame’s Lacey’s MORS presentation on wargames in strategic education, a report on the Sandhurst Kriegsspiel, and a review of the game Healthy Heart Hospital.

In addition, there were more than three thousand views of our page on AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game.  Now all of you need to buy a copy…

Brian Train remains our most frequenter commentator on blog posts. 350 of you subscribe to our updates via WordPress or email.

Onwards now into 2017!

Wikistrat: Turkey’s Intervention in the Syrian Civil War

In April 2016 Wikistrat completed two role-playing simulations that explored the dynamics of Turkish intervention in the Syrian civil war:

140 analysts from Wikistrat’s global community of 2,200 recently wargamed a scenario in which Turkey invades northern Syria to establish a buffer zone in the country’s Kurdish region.

The analysts were divided across two mirrored groups (Alpha and Bravo) which had seven teams of ten analysts each, playing Russia, Assad loyalists in Syria, Turkey, the Kurds, ISIS, anti-Damascus and Western-backed rebels, as well as Iran and its proxies.

The two groups progressed simultaneously from the same starting scenario. But the divergent courses they took revealed key insights into some of the main actors and dynamics in the Syrian Civil War.

Key Findings

  • In the event of a Turkish intervention in Syria, providing Turkish forces stayed within a ten-kilometer buffer zone and avoided direct confrontation with Russia, they would likely not face significant pressure to withdraw — and could even gain international support if they were able to stabilize the border and slow the flow of refugees to Europe.
  • Assad has an interest in encouraging Russian and Kurdish coordination in Kurdish-held areas in order to free resources to fight anti-Assad rebels in the north.
  • Anti-Assad rebels are likely to suffer greatly in the face of escalating tensions, as their backers (e.g., the U.S. and Turkey) will be hesitant to increase the risk of hostilities with Russia by providing them with significant support.
  • The potential for NATO involvement in Syria will likely constrain Turkish, U.S. and European actors far more than Russia.
  • If Russia manages to keep its focus on ISIS while checking Turkey, it could gain significant international public opinion support which could be leveraged on behalf of Assad.
  • ISIS aggression was a major determinant regarding the direction and intensity of both games. However, ISIS aggression was more likely to result in sustained victory if the focus was on insurgent warfare in Syria (e.g., an attack on Russian forces within Syria) rather than terrorist attacks abroad (e.g., an attack against Russia itself).

The findings are interesting to compare with actual developments since the analysis was undertaken, notably the launching of Operation Euphrates Shield in August against ISIS and even more so the PYD/YPG (Syrian Kurds, and their allies in the Syrian Democratic Forces), and recent Russian-Turkish-Iranian cooperation on a ceasefire and proposed Syrian peace negotiations.

You’ll find the full report at the Wikistrat website. For more on their role-play methodologies, see here.

h/t Shay Hershkovitz

War in Binni: another McGill megagame

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After the success of last year’s New World Order 2035 megagame at McGill University, we’re holding another on February 11: War in Binni.

The Republic of Binni is wracked by civil war. As President-for-Life Eddie Ancongo clings to office, rival groups of militias and warlords plot to seize power for themselves. Strange cults and radical extremists proliferate. Mercenaries offer their services to the highest bidder. Mineral prospectors and multinational corporations seek profit amidst the conflict. Archaeologists scramble to safeguard valuable artifacts from the ravages of war—or unscrupulously sell them to the highest bidder. Neighbouring countries meddle, seeking to further their own regional interests. The great powers call for peace—but is that what they really want?

War in Binni is a megagame designed by renowned (or infamous) UK game designer Jim Wallman. Approximately one hundred participants will assume the roles of national decision-makers, diplomats, international organizations, mercenaries, archaeologists, cultists, corporations, journalists, rebels, organized crime, and others. Can peace brought to Binni? Or will the country further descend into chaos? And what strange secrets might the country hold?

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“War in Binni” underway at King’s College London in September 2016.

Tickets are now available at a cost of $35 for McGill students, and $60 for others. Get yours now via Eventbrite–numbers are limited, and were quickly sold out last year.

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The event is run on a non-profit basis, and is cosponsored by the International Relations Students Association of McGill (IRSAM) and the McGill Political Science Students Association (PSSA).

A report on last year’s game. New World Order 2035, can be found here and here. A summary of a War in Binni game played at King’s College London in September can be found here (although the McGill version may be a little more…. unusual.)

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Last year’s New World Order 2035 megagame at McGill University.

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The War in Binni

The current President of Binni was elected by the people following the unexpected and untimely death of his uncle Jeremiah. The election was characterised by ballot-rigging, intimidation and corruption. This was some 11 years ago and there is no prospect of any further elections any time soon.

The Binnian parliament still exists and meets regularly, but is made up of loyal supporters of the President and has no independent power.

The country is suffering from increased unrest and various troubles arising from a poor harvest and the effects of the corrupt and repressive Ancongo regime, which outlawed political opposition some years ago and has been increasingly attempting to crush all dissent. The main political opposition parties have been forced underground and have increasingly seen their only recourse has been to arm themselves in self-defence against President Ancongo.

The Opposition Alliance is made up of two main former political parties, the DemocraticFreedom Party (DFP) and the Communist Party Of Binni (CPOB).

The Muslim Rebel Alliance is strong in the northeast of Binni and is supported by the Republic of Agadez.

The Christian Faction is strong in the East of Binni and is supported by the Kingdom of Gao.

The traditional Clewgist faction is strong in the west of Binni, and has a small amount of support from the People’s Republic of Mouella. This is based around an ancient tribal religion, about which few in the developed world know very much.

The Hand of God Movement is a fanatical fundamentalist Christian group that have been largely dismissed but who have gained some infuence in the northwest of Binni.

 

Republic of Agadez: Binni has good trade relations with land-locked Agadez to the north, especially with the city of Dervish.  Relations with Agadez are politically neutral, some trade goes on across the border. Agadez has not been as badly affected by the drought as Northern Binni, and some Binnian refugees are reported to be moving north over the border towards Dervish. The Agadez Army has been deployed to the border region mainly to assist with refugee control.

Kingdom of Gao:  Relations with Binni are tolerable, but the Gaotians have a stormy history with Binni, dating back to the days before the colonial invasions of the nineteenth century. Despite ancient rivalries, Gao has reasonable trading relations with Binni.
People’s Republic of Mouella:  Relations are strained.  The Mouellans have not really forgiven the events of the 1986 War, when Binni liberated part of what is now the Eastern Region of Binni from the Mouellans – especially since this included the valuable (if small) port of Saboto.  The Mouellans are not actually hostile at present, but still formally have a territorial claim to Saboto and the area around it. In the current situation they have closed the border with Binni and are turning away any refugees.  They have made it clear that they are not disposed to assist Binni in any way at present.

The United Nations has appointed a Special Representative of the Secretary-General to mediate between the warring factions. UN agencies are also active in providing humanitarian relief.

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The United Nations Security Council has formed a subcommittee to support the efforts of the UN SRSG. This consist of the five permanent members (the ChinaFranceRussiaUnited KingdomUnited States) plus African regional states Guinea and Nigeria. Each of these, however, may well have their own interests too.

Several multinational corporations have shown a particular interest in the area, including international arms dealers LexSec  and Weygand, and biotechnology company Necrotech.

Binni has a rich and mysterious archaeological history, which is threatened by the current war. McGill UniversityPadua University, and Miskatonic University are currently undertaking digs in the area.

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Reporting on regional events is provided by the Global News Network. You’ll find their webpage here, and they can also be followed on Twitter (@GNNBinni)


How to Play

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You will find a copy of the core rules here. Specialist rules for Archaeology, Science, the United Nations, and other subgames will be included in the team briefings, which will be emailed to participants approximately one week before the game, at the email address they used to register with.

The rules will also be explained before the game starts, and members of the CONTROL team will be ready to assist. Don’t worry if it seems confusing or chaotic at first—you’ll soon work it out!

MORS wargaming news

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The latest (December 2016) issue of The Phalanx contains a substantial report by CDR Phil Pournelle (OSD) on the Military Operations Research Society’s October 2016 special meeting on wargaming. This includes a summary of the keynote address by DEPSECDEF Robert Work:

The highlight of the closing plenary was the keynote address by Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work. He outlined the challenges to the department characterized by the proliferation of precision strike weapons across the planet and their use and development by our competitors. He is concerned that our advantages over our competitors are eroding. He discussed how in the past the US jumped ahead using technology to o set numbers. In World War II, the Army assessed a need to raise 213 divisions to fight the Axis, but we counted on superiority in air and sea power to offset these requirements and so chose to raise only 90. After World War II, the United States first offset Soviet superiority in numbers with the deployment of a large number of nuclear weapons. After the Soviets gained nuclear parity, the second ffset employed what the Russians called a Reconnaissance Strike Complex, combining near-zero-miss weapons, sensors, and a command structure to hit all echelons of a Soviet Army Group simultaneously. Mr.Work described how wargaming was crucial to the assessment process in each of these instances and he is convinced of the necessity to use wargaming to identify the next, or third o set. His vision for the third offset is largely dependent on how to best team humans and machines together, integrating the best of both into a capability greater than their sum. Normal quantitative methods alone are not able to capture many of the qualitative issues surrounding the challenges and opportunities we face. Therefore, there is a need for cycles of research integrating wargaming within the larger process in the Department of Defense.

The Deputy Secretary made clear that the wargaming initiative will go forward in the future. Financing for the DWAG incentive fund is in the Future Years Defense Program (FYDP) and would require positive action by future administrations to remove it. The key to long-term success will be for MORS and the wargaming community to capitalize on the opportunity and demonstrate value in the process for the department and the nation.

PAXsims’ own report on the meeting can be found here.

The same issue also contains an article by Robert C. (Barney) Rubel on “Connecting the Dots: Learning from Multiple Wargames.” Noting that the development of a DoD-wide wargame repository will generate potential opportunities to learn from multiple wargames, he highlights some of the methodological and analytical challenges of doing so:

It is one thing to sift through such reports to glean hints on how to design and conduct wargames or to cue follow-on gaming or other research. This kind of data gathering is valid in and of itself. However, if the researcher seeks to employ the results from multiple games to generate deeper insights on warfare subjects, to synthesize game results, to avoid distorted or erroneous conclusions. Synthesizing qualitative research results, which are what wargames produce, is not a well- developed eld, but there are a number of proposed methodologies emerging from the fields of medicine and social science research, such as meta-interpretation (Weed, 2005) and meta- ethnography (Britten et al., 2002) that could prove useful. This article will not delve into these techniques, but anyone undertaking to do multigame synthesis ought to review the literature.

Finally, it’s not too late to register for forthcoming MORS courses on Wargaming Theory (January 10) and Wargaming Research and Design (January 11), to be held in Arlington VA. Full details are below.

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Happy holidays from PAXsims

On behalf of everyone here at PAXsims—Gary, Ellie, Devin, Tom and myself—we would like to wish our readers the very best for the holidays. May all your conflicts be merely simulated, and not every game serious!

 

 

Reflections on the wargame spectrum

Colin Marston (Dstl) passed on to me some slides (public domain identifier PUB098428) presented at the recent MORS wargaming special meeting which address the range of wargaming approaches and methodology. Given the growing interest in wargaming—what it is, what it can do, and how it might do it—I thought they would be of interest to PAXsim readers. I’ve also inserted a few thoughts of my own.

You’ll find the full set of slides here here (ppt) and here (pdf).

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The first set of slide suggests that wargames can be differentiated by the level of analysis (strategic vs operational, vs tactical), by the nature of the problem (bounded and clear, or wicked and messy), and by the type of adjudication used (open/free versus rigid and rules-based). I would have probably listed the adjudication issue last, because the choice of appropriate methodology can really only be made once you are clear on what sorts of question(s) you are trying to answer.

The slides don’t say much about purpose. Elsewhere, Graham Longley-Brown does so, noting the divide between analytical and training/education games:

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While that differentiation is useful because it points to important differences in purpose and hence design, I’ll admit that I’ve been increasingly interested in the extent to which we might be able to develop hybrid games—that is, wargames that serve an education/training function, but in which participants are also generating data that is of analytical value too. My own Brynania civil war/peacebuilding game at McGill, for example, is designed for educational purposes but has now been used to generate data for two PhD theses (one on terrorist violence, the other on educational gaming). While there’s a risk of compromising analytical rigour or educational effectiveness in doing this, it could also provide a useful way of stretching limited resources.

The Dstl presentation goes on to discuss which game approaches are often of value in which contexts:

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Here they comment:

On this slide the top blue line represents the different levels within the problem space.  The red, middle line represents types of adjudication.  The bottom green line indicates the different levels of complexity.  On top of these axes we have the types of wargames that we employ in Dstl and across the MOD.  Please note that these techniques are not limited to their positions on the axes.  We find that the techniques on the left of the spectrum generally provide more opportunity for original thought and creativity (imagination). In addition, methods at this end of the spectrum generally provide an opportunity for doing lots of Courses of Action with little depth – so essentially short games that might last a couple of hours to a day.  The methods on the right can provide increasing depth, but are often slower to set up and run. These methods generally employ more rigorous and precise techniques – although that does not necessarily mean that they give more accurate outputs.  All of these approaches have their merits, some being better at trying to answer certain questions than others. So, when appropriate, we try to use a combination of different approaches.

They also identify some “essential elements” of a wargame:

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Now, the type of game that we use is just one part of the process. This slide highlights the other factors that we need to consider. There’s no fixed order in the way we tackle these – it’s an iterative process and depends on the question.

The wargame is not the simulation. The simulation is but a subset of a wargame.

Effective communication and transparency are crucial throughout the whole of the wargaming process and it is crucial that everyone – from the players to the customers – are involved at the relevant stages.

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The optimal approach to providing decision-support is often to fuse the information pertaining from both human-in-the-loop and non-human-in-the-loop techniques.

There are many different types of wargames and careful consideration should be given as to which type, or types, of game are most appropriate for a particular problem.  Also wargaming should often NOT be used in isolation but as part of a broader analytical tool and / or iterative process that incorporates a range of different techniques.

Feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments section.

Battle for Humanity — beta testers required

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Battle for Humanity is a digital game initiative by Search for Common Ground intended to promote cooperation and conflict resolution among youth and young adults. They’re looking for both playtesters and partners:

The Presidential election woke the U.S. up to our desperate need to listen to and understand each other. With our self-sorting on social media, at church, and in schools, we don’t build the relationships across differences that are vital for a functioning society.

We need to work together even when we vehemently disagree.

We can redefine “hero” to include politicians who bravely work across party lines to fix what needs fixing. To include the young Latina who asks a policeman for help, even though she’s afraid to. To include the Christian who intervenes to stop bigotry against a Muslim neighbor.

Over the past two years, we’ve brought together experts from engineering, marketing, and academia with young peacebuilders from around the world. We’ve envisioned a new way to reach young people with a vision of global leadership: Battle for Humanity – a global, online platform where social media meets real-life video game.

Battle for Humanity attracts young people who wouldn’t be caught dead at a peace camp. It starts building their empathy and leadership through our proven methods. It makes it normal to listen to your “enemy” with respect. It makes solving problems for everyone’s benefit the goal. All the while, you’re making friends around the world, gaining points, and moving up the ranks of this online community.

We urgently need your help to get Battle for Humanity up and running.

Here are three ways you can help:

1) Join now. Are you 13-30 years old? Do you have a child, grandchild, niece, nephew, cousin, or friend in this age range? We’re testing the real-life activities for this game right now on Facebook. Go to battle4humanity.org to enroll as a beta tester. Or help us recruit the young people who will design this platform from the ground up.

2) Connect us. Do you know a major foundation, police department, or university who might partner with us to bring some of our best solutions home to the U.S.? Tell us!

3) Give now. You can start building relationships of trust across Americans’ deepest fears. You can create the next generation of social technology that bridges divides instead of erecting echo chambers. Help us continue developing and testing new solutions to today’s most difficult conflicts – and bring our tested and proven solutions home to the U.S. where they’re desperately needed.

Battle for Humanity is a key piece of our dream for the U.S. We need a serious commitment from our friends and partners to make the whole dream a reality.

Will you partner with us?

Having dealt with them in the past I know that SFCG does some excellent work. You’ll find full details at the links above.

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“Our Sea”—An Eastern Mediterranean matrix game

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The ever-prolific Tom Mouat has completed the design of another matrix game, this time devoted to strategic jockeying by Russia, NATO, and others in the Black Sea and eastern Mediterranean:

President Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin has sought to reverse the post-Cold War era transformations during which Russia lost its satellites, withdrew militarily from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), forfeited its regional predominance, and curtailed its international power projection. Moscow’s primary strategic objective under the Putin presidency is to create a Eurasian bloc of states under predominant Russian influence that will necessitate containing, undermining and reversing NATO influence throughout eastern Europe. Even where it cannot pressure or entice its neighbours to integrate in the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the Kremlin attempts to neutralize nearby capitals by preventing them from moving into Western institutions, particularly NATO and the European Union (EU).

In this strategic context, Russia’s supremacy in the Black Sea becomes critical for restoring its east European and Eurasian dominion, as well as projecting power toward the Mediterranean and Middle East. Its offensives in and around the Black Sea are part of a larger anti-NATO strategy in which naval forces play a significant and growing role. Russia is using the Black Sea as a more advantageous method of revisionism than extensive land conquests. Control of ports and sea lanes delivers several benefits: it prevents NATO from projecting sufficient security for its Black Sea members; deters the intervention of littoral states on behalf of vulnerable neighbours; threatens to choke the trade and energy routes of states not in compliance with Russia’s national ambitions; and gives Moscow an enhanced ability to exploit fossil fuels in maritime locations.

All of this assumes particular significance, of course, against the backdrop of Russian deployment of its (rather dilapitated) aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov to support combat operations in Syria, reports that NATO is again playing hide-and-seek with Russian attack submarines in the Med (and vice-versa), continued conflict in the Ukraine, political uncertainty in Turkey, the regional migrant crisis, and the growing value of eastern Mediterranean oil and gas deposits.

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The actors represented in the game include the US, Turkey, Russia, Ukraine, Cyprus, and the UK, and turns represent around 2-4 weeks. Rules, counters, and maps are included, and can be downloaded from here (pdf).

Review: The Sandhurst Kriegsspiel

John Curry and Tim Price, The Sandhurst Kriegsspiel: Wargaming for the Modern Infantry Officer. Training for War: Volume I. History of Wargaming Project, 2016. 123pp. £14.95

 

sandhurstkriegcover.gifRecent years have seen an effort to (re)introduce a greater quantity and quality of wargaming into professional military education, notably in the United States and United Kingdom. This volume contains a number of British examples. It is written by two well-known experts in the field, John Curry (of the History of Wargaming Project) and the prolific but ever-elusive “Tim Price” (a currently-serving British military officer). Another British officer, Ed Farren, has also contributed to the collection. The book is amply illustrated with maps and pictures, and additional materials are available for download at the History of Wargaming Project website.

The book contains four wargames. The first, the Sandhurst Kriegsspiel, is a platoon- or company-level action meant to be played following a TEWT (tactical exercise without troops) earlier in the day. During the TEWT, officer cadets physically visit the nearby “battlefield” and ascertain how they might defend or assault a designated position. During the kriegsspiel, they then play this out against each other on a map using simple wargaming rules. The authors note one absolutely key point that underscores the value of wargames as an educational, training, and planning tool, namely what a fundamental difference it can make when one introduces an intelligent and adaptive adversary into the process:

Experience running these kriegsspiels shloes that BLUE often change their plan for the wargame from the one they have spent the majority of the day considering in the TEWT. When faced by an enemy played by their peers, who have spent the day considering the same situation, the players often realise that they have assumed that the enemy is stupid [and] incapable of thinking from the BLUE point of view. The RED team will know what the likely BLUE attack plan will be and have prepared for it.

The second game included in the collection is the Battlegroup Kriegsspiel, which introduces a simple map-based wargame involving multiple platoons and companies. The Modern Infantry Battle (or “Future UK Army Concepts”) wargame was developed to explore the implications of possible reorganization and reductions in the size of British infantry companies. This is somewhat more dependent on formal rules, and less dependent on umpire adjudication. Finally, Ed Farren’s Counter-IED Kriegsspiel has students play the role of a Blue force attempting to complete an assigned task—and a Red force placing IEDs and ambushes to try to prevent this and inflict casualties. All of these games are quite simple, but in many ways that is the point: even relatively quick and simple wargames can provide insight into military operations in a way that explores their inherently adversarial nature.

The many appendices to the volume include a summary of the UK military decision-making (or combat estimative) process; a (rather critical) British military assessment of the SPI commercial wargame Firefight (1977), notes on British Army weapons, and sample unit counters for the games.

The primary targets of this book are those engaged in tactical and operational military training. However those interested in teaching military operations in other contexts (including in university courses on modern warfare, which are often peculiarly devoid of any exploration of the tactical, operational, and strategic arts) will also find it useful. Hobby gamers may also derive from enjoyment in trying out the rules and scenarios with their opponents, in a “can you beat a Sandhurst officer cadet” sort of way.

Thomas Schelling, 1921-2016

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Thomas Schelling—Nobel laureate in economics, a key figure in the development of modern game theory and strategy, and a pioneer of political-military wargaming—died on Tuesday at the age of 95. You’ll find his New York Times obituary here.

Wargamers will be especially interested in his contribution “Red vs. Blue?” to Pat Harrigan and Matthew Kirschenbaum, eds. Zones of Control: Perspectives on Wargaming (2016). The chapter is based on an earlier talk he gave to the 2014 Connections wargaming conference.

It is also well worth reading Crisis Games 27 Years Later: Plus c’est déjà vua RAND reproduction of a lengthy 1964 exchange of internal communications between Robert Levine, Thomas Schelling, and William Jones on the strengths and weaknesses of crisis games as an experiential and analytical tool. Levine is skeptical and cautious, while Schelling (as in his chapter referenced above) argues they have considerable value when used properly.

Review: Priestly & Lambshead, Tabletop Wargames

Rick Priestly and John Lambshead, Tabletop Wargames: A Designers’ & Writers’ Handbook. Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2016. 153pp. £14.99/$24.95 pb.

TabletopWargames.jpegThis slim but lively volume offers guidance to the hobbyist on designing and presenting rules for tabletop (miniature) wargames. The authors are certainly well-qualified to write on the subject. Rick Priestly is author or coauthor of such influential game rules as Warhammer Fantasy, Warhammer Ancients, Warhammer 40K, WarmasterLord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game (Games Workshop), as well as Black Powder, Hail Caesar, and Bolt Action (Warlord Games), while John Lambshead has designed a variety of computer games, was editor of Wargames News, and has authored books for both Osprey and Games Workshop.

The authors’ emphasis is on designing a playable game which also represents a reasonable depiction of the era or conflict being represented. This approach contrasts subtly, but significantly, with the approach taken by Philip Sabin in  Simulating War: Studying Conflict Through Simulation Games (2012), where the focus is in accurately modelling conflict in a manner that is also playable. The difference is hardly surprising—Priestly and Lambshead are aiming at hobbyists who want to enjoy themselves, while Sabin is interested in wargaming as pedagogical and research tool.

This difference is especially evidence in Chapter 2, on “A Question of Scale.” Priestly and Lambshead make it clear that tabletop wargaming rules need to be written in a way that accommodates the average size of a gaming table, the number of units a player can reasonably manage, and the number of turns that can be taken in the time that is likely to be available for play. If necessary, unit capabilities need to be adjusted to meet the needs of the hobby game.

Most of rest of the book is devoted to how to actually write rules in a way that makes them clear and useable to players. There is a great deal of useful insight on offer here into organization, logical flow, and language. This includes a useful list of “troublemakers”—words and phrases that tend to create confusion. A brief chapter discusses probability and chance. The final chapters explore army lists, scenarios, campaign rules, and other game expansions.

Hobby gamers who wish to design their own tabletop game rules will find this book very useful, especially if they are more interested in play experience than deep historical accuracy. The book’s value extends beyond this, however, to other (serious) gamers looking for advice on how to write rules for brevity and clarity, and in a manner that respects the centrality of the player (or umpire) as the reader, and user, of what is being written.

 

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 11 December 2016

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PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to out readers. Aram Schvey and Corinne Goldberger suggested material for this latest edition.

PAXsims

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Two Billion Miles is an online interactive video account of the the journeys made by refugees and other migrants, developed by Channel 4 News (UK):

They fled their homes and made journeys through Europe to escape civil war, poverty and the misery of refugee camps.

Migrants who applied for asylum in Europe in 2015 have collectively travelled more than two billion miles; a conservative estimate based on the shortest over-land routes to European countries from their countries of origin. These 727,085 people travelled an average of 2,750 miles each.

Follow in the footsteps of migrants and refugees as they face the hardships of months on the road. Choose your route and make tough decisions in this interactive video story, featuring real footage from extraordinary journeys made this year.

PAXsims

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Several recent and forthcoming pieces in the Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation might be of interest:

Understanding climate-induced migration through computational modeling: A critical overview with guidance for future efforts
Charlotte Till, Jamie Haverkamp, Devin White, and Budhendra Bhaduri

If you haven’t been reading Jim Wallman’s thoughts on megagame design and facilitation at his blog, perhaps you should—it’s very interesting!

PAXsims

The Numbers, Wargames and Arsing About blog discusses the challenges of wargaming the current Iraqi/coalition campaign against ISIS, including the current Battle of Mosul.

PAXsims

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Civil Defence is a proposed boardgame about disaster reduction:

The simulation table top board game introduces the basics of disaster risk reduction and humanitarian action to players with or without any background in disaster risk reduction or humanitarian work. Francis shares that the design of the game was inspired by years of experience in social development work, humanitarian action, and disaster risk reduction. Some game scenarios were even based on the Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda experience and other real life events.

You’ll find more on the project here.

PAXsims

Feedback from the recent Connections Australia wargaming conference can be found at their website. Powerpoint presentations and other material will be be made available shortly.

PAXsims

Time Commanders is back on the BBC!

Hosted by Gregg Wallace, Time Commanders is the show that lets ordinary members of the public go toe to toe with the world’s greatest generals. Using cutting-edge simulations, they refight some of the most significant battles from history, offering an innovative mix of genuine history and game show competition.

You can read about the series and forthcoming episodes here.

Matrix game construction kit update #2

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I was in the UK this past week for a conference and several meetings, and while I was there Tom Mouat and I took the opportunity to run a playtest of A Reckoning of Vultures. This, as I’ve noted before, will be one of the sample game scenarios included in the forthcoming matrix game construction kit that Tom Mouat, Tom Fisher, and I are putting together.

I thought it went very well, both in terms of the physical game components (map, counters) and the scenario and associated special rules. We also received some very useful feedback from the participants. In particular, John Mizon has put together an excellent playtest report at his South West Megagames website:

On Sunday I was invited to “A Reckoning of Vultures”: a Matrix game designed by Tom Mouat and Rex Brynen [1]. The game is set in the capital of the fictional Republic of Matrixia, where the President-for-Life is on his death bed, and various power-hungry factions are jostling to control important parts of the city so they can seize power upon his imminent demise.

His report includes a full account of the game, including pictures. His detailed assessment will certainly prove very useful as we tweak the scenario further—so, on both of both ourselves and the oppressed workers of Matrixia, thank you John!

I should start by saying that this isn’t the first matrix game I have played – I have previously run a matrix game called ‘Kazhdyy Gorod’ [7]. Kazhdyy Gorod is similar to Reckoning, in that it is set in a fictional city undergoing political turmoil and unpredictability of who will end up in charge. Players complete to win popularity and power, trying to improve their situation (and often try to win more potential votes if it is decided the game ends with an election). The players have a map and unit/resource counters, but other than that there is very little structure (aside from the standard matrix game turn order/arguments process).

 I think that A Reckoning of Vultures benefited greatly from additional rules. The separation into two distinct phases of the game improved the pacing and helped flesh out the narrative; the use of specific counters for money, units and influence allowed for more satisfying tactical thinking; effective rules for combat meant you could clearly anticipate the benefits of which units you have; and having key locations to control meant that players had clear objectives to plan around – whilst still allowing enough freedom in the space in between to encourage both player creativity and development of a flexible narrative.

I believe that the key locations also solved an issue that I had found in Kazhdyy Gorod. Namely that the rigid turn order structure and range of actions available caused problems as to how long each player’s turn lasted in the game’s time. For example, one player’s ambush would happen in the same round as another player’s political campaign, and things became messy and it was hard to gauge what was happening within the narrative. The key locations meant that most turns were players moving to and/or doing something important in one location – thus ensuring that the turn times felt uniform.

As someone pointed out in the post-game discussion, there’s a significant amount of random chance, especially in the final phase – but I think that’s fine considering that it’s a relatively short game. The random dice rolling at the end also means that the key locations are not the final decider – if that were the case then players would be incentivised to be doing constant mental arithmetic over key location control (and potential future control) in order to win at the end, which I believe would be stressful and tedious. Adding random chance at the end means you can just do your best when obtaining key locations, taking actions based on instinct and informed guessing.

As Rex pointed out afterwards, the final phase of the game is also meant to show how a matrix game, benefiting from its value as a simulation, can be used to provide starting points for other types of game, such as the dice rolling mechanics of the final phase.

I have three negative observations, though the first two apply to matrix games in general, so they’re more systemic weaknesses than fixable problems or mistakes.

Firstly, it’s clear that matrix games are not for everyone. This is true of any kind of game of course, but matrix games look like board games and sound slightly like RPGs, whilst actually lacking a large amount of structure compared to these. If you are intending to play a matrix game with board game or RPG players, be careful to manage expectations. Matrix games’ strengths are in their ability to simulate and to create freeform narratives, so they’re best suited to players who will be willing to engage with games in order to experience those. If your players are likely to enjoy games less when they lack a lot of structure, be careful with matrix games; relative to other games, there is a lot of doubt and uncertainty about actions’ mechanical effects, and players will need to be able to move their focus away from winning sometimes in order to allow the simulation and communal narrative to work.

Secondly, as I know from experience with Kazhdyy Gorod, matrix games need a Facilitator who is both good at managing their players and comfortable with their knowledge of the setting. The freedom allowed by matrix games can end up leading to long debates about what will work and what won’t, or about what certain aspects of the setting are or aren’t. A good Facilitator needs to be able to be both flexible and firm – allowing player creativity and taking in arguments, but also knowing when to finish things and move on to avoid further debate that slows and muddies the game. Thankfully, Rex was a great Facilitator for our game.

The third criticism is more about the game as an event than as a game. The two main phases are of unpredictable length – which I thought was very interesting in terms of decision making during the game, but if you were planning to run this game, it might cause problems, as you wouldn’t know whether it would take under an hour to play or possibly up to about 4 hours. Depending on what context you are trying to organise this game in, this may be an issue. In a way, this can be seen in our playthrough – where the first phase was only two rounds long (about as short as it can reasonably be without someone deliberately assassinating the president), so we didn’t get to experience much of it, and this meant that there was less feedback on how well the first phase worked.

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