Major Robert J. Fritz is civilian desk officer in the situation center of the Austrian Ministry of Defence. As “Creative Warrior” he has founded “Tablewood Studios” focusing on Business Dramaturgy, Game Design and Personal Screenwriting. If readers have any questions or wish to share feedback, they are invited to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
First of all I would like to wish all readers a Happy New Year. May you get healthy through the Pandemic Year 2021.
It is a pleasure to present via PAXsims my approach to epidemic crisis management by serious gaming. The game is based on AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game, and so those familiar with that game will recognize many of the mechanics. It is also inspired by core mechanic of virus spread used in the successful Pandemic game series. I am grateful to Rex Brynen, Tom Fisher and Matt Leacock behind those two game designs—without these sources it would have been impossible to create a prototype within a short period of time.
After last spring the first wave of COVID-19 had hit Austria, the commander of the Austrian Military Academy tasked the head of the Development Division, General Staff Col. Dr. Markus Reisner, to develop a simulation about the management of the COVID-19 pandemic by various key actors. Col. Reisner chose an innovative interdisciplinary approach. Due to our shared interest in wargaming and long friendship he got in touch with me and asked me for any support I could deliver. At the beginning I was overwhelmed by the challenge, but a look into my game collection identified a few candidates which could work as conceptual sources. I have to admit that I am not that experienced game designer, but I enjoy to cope with complex challenges in a creative way.
As advocate of educational gaming I had a few opportunities to gain some experience in the past. As student of political science I organized a NATO-related panel as part of the annual Vienna Model UN/VIMUN and as military training officer I created scenarios for the live action peace operations predeployment training of logistics and contracting officers. Being a freelance civilian logistics trainer at that time was very helpful in that regard.
As a “Creative Warrior” with my own business “Tablewood Studios” I started with miniature game designs (more or less by the principle trial and error) and did a lot of research on the history of wargaming. As civilian desk officer with a military background in the Austrian Ministry of Defence I use historical conflict simulations as analytical tools. My board and miniature game collection grows bigger and bigger and due to my cinematic approach I consider my miniatures as props for making table movies. In recent years I focused more on screenwriting and still have this great dream to see my two superheroes “Ghost Talker” and “Sergeant Gulliver” some day on the big screen. But this is another story. Back to COVID Buster.
After playing one session AFTERSHOCK with Colonel Reisner it became very clear that this simulation covers many clever aspects of crisis management, which could also work for a pandemic situation —especially the synergies of coordination by key actors. I like the elegant design and logical procedures represented by different card decks and player phases. The map system is also very attractive. Printing large geographical maps is more complex and expensive. The to scale size of different regions would also be a visual challenge to get all necessary information on the map. The district structure of AFTERSHOCK is just perfect to me.
In November the first prototype of COVID Buster was tested and presented to Major General Karl Pronhagl as Commander of the Military Academy and his Chief of Staff in Wiener Neustadt under lockdown conditions. Both gentlemen were deeply impressed and the momentum was used to continue working on bugs and new ideas. On the 17th of December 2020 the latest game lab took place and brought to light that the game system should work pretty well. There is still a long way to go and 2021 will follow a very pandemic path: Testing, Testing, Testing!
The core challenge was to demonstrate the complexity of nation-wide crisis management in Austria at different working levels during a pandemic linked with a simple, but still logical, infection rate. The actors should face the ups and downs of virus spread due to different factors like clusters, lockdowns, limited supplier markets, vaccine research, influencer conspiracies and a variety of other events which drives the situation. The dominant key player is the Health Services with the authority to put a general Lockdown in place (just once per game with a special card the actor has already at hand from the very beginning of the game). The military is the last actor during a game round, since it only acts by request of other authorities like Health Services or Police.
As mentioned above the basic character of AFTERSHOCK is very visible. The main differences are:
The key actors are Health Services, Austrian Red Cross (also representing the whole range of other NGOs), Police as well as the Austrian Armed Forces (Bundesheer) and play in that particular order.
Instead of districts you have the whole state of Austria represented by the nine federal states (Bundesländer). Each game plan for a federal state (Bundesland) includes a “Corona-Ampel” with four different colors (green-yellow-orange-red) reflecting the regional epidemic situation. The Corona-Ampel and the deck of Needs Cards (similar to the At Risk Cards in AFTERSHOCK) are linked since the colour of the Ampel increases the needs for critical supplies (+ 1 per type). Players assign teams to different tasks like in AFTERSHOCK. There are special fields for certain events like Quarantine and Disaster Relief (e.g. due to avalanches or floods) to tie up operational teams.
The four types of supplies are related to the most critical groups of goods needed to manage the pandemic. White cubes stand for personal protective equipment. Blue cubes stand for “disinfectants” and other liquid resources like blood plasma. Green Cubes are any form of test kits and also include medication. Red Cubes stand for intensive care beds and include the whole technology linked to it (e.g. respirators). In the fourth month production facilities (like Infrastructure in AFTERSHOCK) could be put in place representing domestic production capacities of critical items.
Since Austria is surrounded by eight neighbouring countries there is an Infection Plan for these countries, too. This plan also includes a “Corona-Ampel” related to the WHO representing the global pandemic situation. The Police and Military actors assign teams to border management which act as a blocker for the cross-border spread of the virus.
In each player turn there is an Infection Phase prior to the concluding Supply Phase by drawing infection cards to define the location of new infections like in the boardgame Pandemic. “Pandemic Cubes” will be placed on the Ampel of the effected “Bundesland” or “Neighbouring Country” and each color/cube stands for a reproduction factor of “1”. There are four “Pandemic Cards” in the deck which trigger an outbreak and could lead to chain reactions of viral spread.
Logistics: I am still so fascinated by the Logistic Hub Challenge of AFTERSHOCK by using this black discs. I wanted to transform this clever mechanic into a contracting based approach. My idea was to simulate limited markets of critical items by using the black discs as kind of contracting marker representing groups of suppliers and a bidding process needed to increase the capacities. To be honest, as former logistics officer and quartermaster I specialized in contingency contracting and I wanted to see this aspect in the game. My sponsor and other consulting experts did not agree and saw no benefit in that. I admit that the game is already complex enough which justifies this decision. Therefore it was simplified by delaying the availability of supplies. With a logistic operation you get ordered supplies from abroad back home into your domestic warehouses. The exchange of items between players and the generation of production facilities is like in AFTERSHOCK. There are certain events in the course of the game which will have an impact on the logistic chain, too.
Cards, cards, cards: The card driven core mechanic needs a lot of playing cards. Like in AFTERSHOCK there are cards for coordination, events, needs (like At Risk cards) and special situations (e.g. Media, Assessment, Social Unrest). In detail they differ very much due to the pandemic situation. Needs Cards (Bedarfskarten) include three different types refering either to a Regional Pandemic situation, a Corona Cluster or special situations like Corona Demos, Travel Warnings, Daily Commuters, Influenza Wave, Lack of Intensive Care Beds, Mask Refuseniks or Cov-Idiots.
The game lasts over 12 months/rounds.
Instead of the Relief Points in AFTERSHOCK, players gain or loose “Government Points” – the final score could be “good” or “bad governance”.
I am well aware that nine Bundesländer and a game length of over 12 months extend the needs in terms of playing time and game material. On the other hand I strongly believe that for a serious classroom game – provided that enough time is available – it is important to keep basic issues of the real world in the design. Players will have a personal relation to certain Bundesländer of Austria, which could have an impact on decisions about priorities. Therefore I did not want to reduce the number of Bundesländer to fictional regions.
First of all I was deeply impressed by the visual quality of the game material which was graphically prepared in advance by Andrea Zerkhold as member of the development division of the military academy. I absolutely did not expect this at this stage of the project, since so many aspects were still unclear. It is a pleasure to work with this material. It was the perfect eye catcher for the presentation of the prototype.
The first test game with the prototype took place on the 25 November 2020 and had this outstanding cast:
Health Services: Represented by General Staff Colonel Dr. Markus Reisner PhD, head of the Development Division at the Military Academy. A former SOF officer with operational experience in peace operations in Afghanistan, Chad and Mali. As historian he has written several brilliant books about military history and his broader academic profile also includes studies about robotic warfare.
Red Cross: The author and designer himself – Major Robert J. Fritz. My military baptism of fire was as UN Military Police patrolman in the 90s in Syria followed by a contracted officer career as quartermaster and logistic officer at the Austrian International Peace Support Command with duties in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Syria and the Western Sahara. After working a couple of years in the logistic branch of the Austrian MoD I was ready for a change. As civilian desk officer for UN peacekeeping in the MoD I joined the annual main conference of the UN Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations in New York on a regular basis. In December 2019 I took over a position in the Situation Center in the MoD and for months I am contributing to a daily Sitrep about COVID-19. This explains the close relation to the topic, although I would never claim to describe myself as pandemic expert – quite the opposite. At least my years as volunteer in the Red Cross during my time at Business School should justify my qualification that I have modest experience with key tasks of the different actors in COVID Buster. As artist I would prefer much more the Art of Peace than War. But if you want to have peace, you have to understand war.
Police: Soldier André Mayer. This young and open minded gentleman seems to be the luckiest conscripted soldier of the Bundesheer—having the privilege to serve under the command of Col Reisner and being active part of this project. He does not only play a supportive role for different services. With his critical mind he delivers valuable input to the design process. Perhaps it is worth to mention that he works in his civilian life for the Austrian Chancellor as the youngest member of the cabinet.
Bundesheer: Prof DI Dr. Col Norbert Frischauf. He is a High Energy Physicist (Astrophysics and Particle Physics) by education and a Future Studies Systems Engineer by training. Being highly interested in all sorts of technologies as well as the micro and macro cosmos his educational and vocational career led him to several distinct places, such as CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, ESA/ESTEC and the JRC-IET in the Netherlands and recently to the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation where he presents a monthly science telecast. He is part of the “Strategic Community Austria”, a military strategy adviser and writes daily analysis about the development of the COVID-19 pandemic from the very beginning. His expertise and critical contributions are still essential for the project.
COVID Buster starts with a historical setup, which means that there is a viral ground zero in the Western part of Austria, where people from around the world spend their skiing holidays. The event “COVID Ski” is activated right at the beginning of the first round (in addition to the regular event in the active player´s event phase). It says that “excessive apres ski drives the spread of the virus” and has the effect that an outbreak is starting from Tyrol. In that way players jump right into the pandemic situation.
In the Coordination Deck of the prototype a few Lockdown cards were available. The problem was, that until the third month Health Services and Police did not draw one of these cards. In the meantime we lost Government Points by failing to fulfill the needs of the Bundesländer and COVID-19 turned Austria and her neighbourhood into red. There was no other way, but to order a nation-wide Lockdown to reduce the infection rates by removing pandemic cubes without a specific card yet available. We agreed that the costs for this new Lockdown as Special Card for the Health Services should be higher for each game round it is in place (5 Government Points for the first round) and should not take longer than three rounds.
Bringing in supplies to the Bundesländer was also a challenge due to the contracting based logistics system. The delays of supplies took three months, when the distribution into the field really started. As mentioned above this mechanic was not very welcome and we dropped it.
In the first 2 months a team should be assigned to Evacuation (similar to Rescue in AFTERSHOCK) to fulfill the needs of a Bundesland. In Covid Buster it reflects the repatriation of Austrian citizens which has been managed by national authorities. As soon as the WHO-Ampel is set on red you have to assign teams to this task again. Every third month one pandemic cube is added to the WHO Ampel. Only the participation in an International Conference (a Coordination Card) could reduce this global growth.
In the fourth month we had to stop the game. For the next step I had to consider an Exit Strategy concerning the development of a vaccine, include the possibilty of lockdowns in the neighbouring countries and change the logistics system. Finally we agreed that Tyrol should not always be the black sheep as starting point of viral spread in Austria. The last issue was easily solved. By drawing an Infection Card as optional rule a new hot spot could be defined within Austria.
December Game Lab
To keep the momentum I continued working on the findings of the prototype test right away and we were able to organize another game lab on the 17 December 2020. In the meantime I played a full 12 month game session solitaire to get a better picture how the whole system works in the long run. Dealing with nine different Bundesländer, the pandemic situation in eight neighbouring countries and many other issues has increased the need for teams and supplies. My first calculations work pretty well, but I expect that after a few test games more balancing is needed.
There was no way during the first test game to get pandemic cubes removed without the Lockdown coordination card. Successfully resolving a Needs Card would also remove pandemic cubes, but this would take time. At a certain point the game became static and there was no sense to draw Infection Cards, since all Covid-Ampeln were red and no outbreaks could be activated anymore. The only penalty was the higher need for critical supplies in the Bundesländer. Conducting Security Operations like Border Management seemed also to be unnecessary due to the “Condition Red” on both sides of the border.
To cope with these flaws we had the idea that each actor should have a special “Joker Card” right from the beginning. Health Services got the nation-wide hard Lockdown Card. The Red Cross is able to generate additional teams. The Police is able to set a whole Bundesland under quarantine. The Bundesheer is able to mobilize additional teams from the militia, but has to wait for one game round reflecting the whole process from drafting to operational readiness. These cards can only be activated once in a game. Three soft Lockdown Cards are kept in the Coordination Deck to react to a pandemic situation in a Bundesland at a later stage.
The longer a Lockdown is in place the higher are the costs. The basic costs for the “Hard Lockdown” are five Government Points per active round. For each additional round one Operational Point has to be paid and one “Bürgerprotest/Citizen Protest” Card has to be placed in each Bundesland. On the other hand you remove one pandemic cube in each Bundesland for each round with an active Lockdown.
I have introduced Lockdown cards for the neighbouring countries as part of the Event Deck, which reduce Pandemic Cubes in the effected state by one. Austria has no influence on lockdown decisions of her neighbours, but there will be an impact across the borders concerning the need for teams in border management.
I changed a bit the procedure for outbreaks. If not even one pandemic cube could be placed somewhere during an outbreak the triggering Bundesland gets one “Citizen Protest” card instead. Outbreaks in the neighbouring countries are also limited to their next neighbour states and not further. The capital town and Bundesland Vienna is a special case concerning infection chains. If in Vienna an outbreak is triggered, it would also infect certain Bundesländer and neighbouring states without a direct borderline. That reflects the issue of national and international commuters or tourists, who work in or visit Vienna.
Finally I would like to outline my ideas how an exit strategy with the existence of an effective vaccine looks like in Covid Buster. There are two cards in the game dealing with research programms. There is the “COVAX Vaccine Initiative by the WHO” as Event Card and the “Vaccine Initiative by the EU” as Coordination Card. Except the Police the drawing actor could assign one team to research for the rest of the game. After six months of research it is possible to activate two other coordination cards (if the actors have kept them before in their hand): The “Vaccination Programme”, which works normally against a flu epidemic (an At Risk Card) becomes in combination with “Notfallzulassung/Emergency Use Authorization” (only activated by the Health Services) the vaccine against COVID-19. At the moment there are two “Vaccination Programme” coordination cards available. The actor holding it can activate it in a Bundesland, where they has a team assigned, by removing one Pandemic Cube.
All these latest adaptions should make COVID Buster more dynamic and should keep the attention of the participants.
Playing a full session of 12 months still takes too much time. I am sure that after more testing and bug hunting the playing time can be reduced. For the needs of the Military Academy as classroom game it should work, but as boxed game for the living room it will stay a challenge. First of all COVID Buster has to work in the classroom within a reasonable timeframe.
In real life we have not yet reached the point of one year crisis management and there are always new developments which I would like to incorporate (e.g. the mutation of the virus or like I did with the terror attack last November in Vienna). But it makes no sense to have hundreds of events with specific terms or actions available. In 12 game rounds with four actors you have about 48 events to draw. This number should also include enough Bundesländer cards to resolve Needs cards.
There is some flexibility to assign events and pandemic language to different card decks. Another approach could be to create special card decks which could dominate one game session or to use at least a few cards from them in the regular decks (e.g. using more terminology for the area of education like distance learning, home schooling, parental letter etc.)
It is scary that the first test games showed a similar viral spread which somehow corresponds with historical developments. I would not say that now it is proven to all sceptics that a hard lockdown is justified in certain situations. In game terms the right timing of a lockdown is essential. In the real world here in Austria the timing proved to be right – at least for the first wave. States had to learn to cope with many challenges. You solve one problem and generate two more. The real art is to prioritize the problems or challenges. No one knows how this experiment of nature will finally be described in history. I hope that COVID Buster could be a small piece of this big puzzle of human history to get an idea how challenging the management of the current pandemic is.
Thanks to Nicholas Gray, AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game can now be played virtually using Table-Top Simulator‚ which means you and your fellow players can assist the earthquake-affected people of Carana without leaving your home or violating social distance protocols.
In the article below, Nicholas introduces TTS and the basic game controls. We are extremely grateful to him for producing this module.The rules to the game are available as a free download from The Game Crafter.
A VASSAL module is also in development, thanks to the folks at the US Army Command and General Staff College. We will post information on that too when it is finalized.
You will need a keyboard and mouse in order to play.
In order to host a game, before launching TTS, search the TTS Steam workshop for Aftershock and select ‘Subscribe’ – this only needs to be done the first time you host. Then launch TTS, choosing either single or multiplayer, open the game folder and load the game.
If you are joining a hosted game then simply launch TTS, choose ‘join’ and search for the hosted server.
Once the game has completely loaded you are ready to play.
To choose a seating position, and thus one of the four agencies, click on your name in the top right hand corner and select a colour.
The following controls should help to get you started. In order to see a full range of TTS controls press the ‘?’ at any time. Note that these controls are for PC use, and although most have equivalents for Mac use they may not be identical.
‘W’, ‘A’, ‘S’, ‘D’ keys will move your viewpoint around the table.
The mouse wheel zooms in and out.
Hold the Right Mouse Button (RMB) while moving the mouse to change the elevation and rotate the table.
Hover over a game object and hold ‘Alt’ to magnify the object – while ‘Alt’ is pressed you can use the mouse wheel to increase or decrease magnification.
To move an object hover over it, then hold the LMB and move the mouse. Release the LMB to drop it at a new location.
To select several objects at once use the LMB to draw a box around them, then move as above.
When hovering over an object use the RMB to access the object menu. This allows shuffling decks and randomising containers, drawing cards/objects and searching decks/containers for specific items.
An alternative way to draw an object from a bag simply hold the LMB while hovering over the bag and pull away. The same is true for decks of cards. However, this requires some timing – LMB and drawing away quickly will draw a single card, but if there is a pause before moving then you will pick up the entire deck. With practice this can become intuitive.
The ‘F’ key is used to flip an object. ‘Q’ and ‘E’ will rotate it.
To put objects back in containers simply drop them on the containers, and similarly cards can be dropped on decks. These will need to be randomised/shuffled before the next draw if you don’t want the same object to be redrawn.
There are many other controls you can learn to use once these have become familiar, but this will give you enough to play the game.
Daniel Sutliff (Medina County Community Response Team and Ohio Military Reserve) contributed the following report to PAXsims.
I controlled an AFTERSHOCK game for the Medina County EMA (Emergency Management Agency) leadership team. It went very well – it was my first time as a controller so I had to refer to the rules multiple times (especially logistics/infrastructure related).
Lesson learned – I had scanned in the District and Calendar cards so I could use them for play (keep the originals nice), so I plan on writing a few of the key points on the images & reprinting for play.
The team got the flow of things after the first turn. One player in particular got the sequence of play pretty quickly and was giving the rest advice on the impact of the sequence on their planning.
They became pretty worried about losing supplies when districts were resolved with unmet needs. I think they focused too much on transferring supplies between each other for a “mass” transfer and not getting the supplies to the districts. Finally, one of the players said “I don’t think supplies are doing any good sitting in warehouses – we need to get them to the field and take the risk”.
One individual never really understood the “randomness” of the Event-cards and why only one district at time is resolved (generally) – she thought districts should be resolved continually in some manner. Randomness is part of disasters was my only reply. If you have another way of explaining it …
After 2-3 turns they were getting the idea to start the infrastructure build-up.
One interesting sequence happened. I think the second Emergency card in District 5 was to be resolved (needs unmet). All the remaining cards (4-5?) were all special cards: fire, measles, cholera, etc. The game had gone on long enough every one understood the mechanisms and basically realized that essentially what happened was the district was completely devastated with essentially no survivors. So we just stood there for a few moments in silence and mild shock about the potential for such a result —then laugher, “oh well at least we don’t have to worry about sending supplies to District 5”.
Around Week 2, the flow started to turn around and districts were started to be successful resolved. This was because the players drew co-ordination cards that allowed district resolution of choice.
We had only gotten to Weeks 3-4 turn, when I had to leave. It took 2-1/2 hours to get to that point (including the initial briefing and overview). As the flow was really moving, I think we could have finished it in another 30 minutes.
The 1st few turns I let them proceed at a slower rate. After all these were EMA professionals – they actually spent significant amount of time relating the process and sequence to real Incident Command System/National Incident Management System (ICS/NIMS) concepts. For example, the turns became operational periods, the Cluster Meetings became Unified Command, etc.
As I was packing up, they asked “when can we play again?”. Those four want to become better acquainted with the rules and concepts so they can “win”. Even early during this first play, one individual indicated they wanted to “win” and another said “I don’t care, as long as the country recovers”. One player finally noted that if more than two players were in Media Outreach, no one gets Operations Points. He then added a third team deliberately to prevent the other two from getting OPs. (And he did it with a mischievous grin!). I told them that real-life groups might take similar attitudes!
In addition, the leadership wants to adapt the game to use ICS forms (perhaps 201,202, 210/211 for teams, 214, 215 for keeping track of supplies, etc). We figured that would take an 8-hour day, but hey!
My next opportunity to run a game is for the OHMR (Ohio Military Reserve) command leadership courses (mainly Officer candidates and 2LTs!) This is in preparation for using the game as the MEMS (Military Emergency Management Specialist ) practicum for the BELT (Basic Enlisted Level Training), which should be in January and a continuing usage.
As usual, no one was given the rules in advance. Instead, after a short fifteen minute powerpoint presentation on the game (available here), a devastating earthquake hit the developing country of Carana and players were thrown straight into the action.
The Government of Carana (right) indicates priority areas for emergency aid.
As is usually the case, they were a bit overwhelmed at first: local need was massive, and they only had a limited number of supplies and relief teams with which to address urgent needs across the five districts of the capital. There was also a bit of interagency rivalry and problems of coordination, notably between UN agencies and non-governmental organizations.
The NGO team (left) prepares to take action while the United Nations and HADR Task Force look on.
In the end, however, they all pulled together, got on top of things, and were successful. Well done!
No longer neophytes: experienced SRB aid workers pose for media photos after successful (simulated) relief operations in Carana.
Many thanks to the SRB HS debate/model UN club for inviting me.
40 Commando Royal Marines playing AFTERSHOCK at the University of Exeter:
A thought provoking and challenging humanitarian desktop exercise hosted by @SSI_Exeter. Allocating scarce resources (water, medical, shelter, etc.) after a disaster while reacting to unforseen incidents. An added complexity was justifying our actions in mock press conferences. pic.twitter.com/M4Q7SxV7Xz
The latest issue of the GMS Journal for Medical Education 35, 4 (2018) contains an article by Simon Drees, Karin Geffert and myself on “Crisis on the game board – a novel approach to teach medical students about disaster medicine,” in which we discuss the use of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game to teach German medical students about humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
The result of the workshops’ evaluation was very positive. A large majority of participants was overall satisfied with the event and all its components. Almost all participants found the level of difficulty to be appropriate. This is consistent with the findings of other AFTERSHOCK participant surveys, which we outlined in the project description , , , . Although participants in these workshops came from very different contexts (WHO, military), they gave similarly positive ratings regarding their overall satisfaction, the level of complexity and the design of the game. The low-to-medium level of prior knowledge in our survey represents the sort of target audience for which AFTERSHOCK was designed. We saw very engaged participants during the workshops, with small group sizes and enough time for a proper introduction and debriefing being crucial to success. We disagree with the suggestion to distribute the rules beforehand or to perform a “test-run”. Experience in other settings mentioned above suggests that this is not necessarily very helpful: when players are provided the rules in advance they may feel a need to fully master them in advance. Introducing elements of the game as they become relevant during game play appears to work much better. Moreover, a limited degree of initial player confusion and uncertainty is also a valuable teaching tool: the immediate aftermath of a disaster, after all, is also characterized by uncertainty and limited information. Oral and written feedback also highlighted the importance of embedding the simulation within a more extensive course on disaster medicine to complement it with more theoretical background knowledge. Although we are confident that we achieved our main goal of providing our participants with a basic understanding of disaster medicine and humanitarian aid, especially regarding its complexities in practice, we agree with this assessment. It is also consistent with the scholarship on serious games, which stresses both the importance of integrating various course elements and value of debriefing sessions, which serve to highlight and contextualize games-based learning .
Board games such as “AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game” are well-suited tools to simulate the complexity of humanitarian assistance. They provide opportunities to apply theoretical knowledge about disaster medicine in practice while experiencing the challenges of a dynamic environment. This and their high acceptance rate among students makes them suitable for use in medical education. To ensure long term learning, simulations should always be accompanied by theoretical coursework and effective debriefing.
GMS Journal for Medical Education is the official journal of the Gesellschaft für Medizinische Ausbildung (German Association for Medical Education). You can find the English version of the article here, and the German version here. AFTERSHOCK is available from The Game Crafter (although at the time of posting they are waiting on some components to arrive before they can fill new orders).
In the case of AFTERSHOCK, an alternative components version is also available. This is exactly the same game, but with slightly different pieces. It’s just as good at the original—game play is not affected by the substitutions.
If you are absolutely desperate for a copy, email me—I often have a few copies in reserve.
As many readers will know, all profits from the sale of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game are donated to the World Food Programme and other United Nations humanitarian agencies. We’re happy to report that those contributions now total some $2,000.
The first tremors hit Carana around 415 in the morning, local time. The capital was just stirring as many laborers were hurrying through their pre-dawn meals before shuffling out of their small houses to arrive at work by sunrise. The full brunt of the earthquake arrive 20 minutes or so later, and the devastation was described by at least one news outlet as “biblical.” The nations tenuous infrastructure, barely a patchwork to begin with, had no chance against the fury unleashed by the Earth’s shifting tectonic plates as bridges crumbled, roads buckled, water pipes tore apart like paper, and the electrical grid shut down, ending any communication that was out of shouting distance.
Help was slow in arriving. Certainly the help wanted to arrive, but the routes into the country – the limited airport, the ramshackle seaport, and inland border – were never ideal under perfect circumstances, and these were not perfect circumstances. The local population certainly had a will to survive, but lacked critical supplies for medical care, safe water, and food & shelter. The world mobilized to help.
And the help began to arrive, a multi-headed hydra of organizations, services, expertise, and agendas. Usually cooperative, occasionally antagonistic, and always under the steady gaze of the worlds’ TV cameras, the various organizations rolled up their sleeves to start the long, hard slog of restoring the basic necessities of life to Carana….
I’m happy to announce that I’ll be conducting a small workshop on “simulated peacebuilding: an introduction to serious games for education, training, and policy analysis” in London (UK) on 4 September 2017. The event is being organized by Peace Direct.
Peace Direct is delighted to host a workshop on “simulated peacebuilding”, with Professor Rex Brynen on 4 September 2017.
Rex Brynen is Professor of Political Science at McGill University, specializing in peacebuilding, strategic analysis, and Middle East politics. He is also senior editor of the conflict simulation/peacebuilding website PAXsims (http://www.paxsims.org), and designer of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game.
“Simulated Peacebuilding” – presentation and discussion: 16.00 – 17.00.
There will be a one-hour presentation and discussion on the role of games in peacebuilding education, training, and policy analysis (16.00 – 17.00).
AFTERSHOCK demonstration: 17.00 – 19.30
After the presentation and discussion, Rex will lead a demonstration of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game. AFTERSHOCK is a boardgame that explores the interagency cooperation needed to address the emergency and early recovery phase of a complex humanitarian crisis.
Spaces are strictly limited so registration is required. Please email Ruairi Nolan if you are interested in attending: Ruairi.email@example.com
Please confirm if you wish to attend the presentation only, or both the presentation and demonstration. (Spaces for the demonstration are limited to a maximum of 12 people).
One of the challenges with using a boardgame in the classroom is how to accommodate a large number of players. AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis game is no different in this respect. It is designed for 4 players, and if players double or triple up on each team, you can fit 8-12 in a game. However if your class is larger, you have to find another approach: for example, running multiple games in parallel (as we have done for the Canadian Disaster and Humanitarian Response Training Programme), or running one game with a new group of students assuming the player roles each turn (as has been done at the University of New South Wales).
My own POLI 450 (Peacebuilding) course at McGill has around one hundred students in it, and the approach I have used is to conduct an after-school AFTERSHOCK tournament, with players competing to secure the highest group (Relief Points) and individual team (Operations Points) scores for bonus marks. This is fairly easy to do in POLI 450, since 10% of the course grade is based on class participation, a requirement that students can fulfill by taking part in online discussions, attending relevant campus lectures, taking part in McMUN (McGill model UN)—or participating in games like AFTERSHOCK.
Members of an NGO team, upon realizing that they had forgotten to assign staff to an important task.
This year the games ran in the evening, taking about 2.5 hours (15 minutes rules briefing, a 2 hour times game, and 15+ minutes of debrief/discussion). Within a matter of hours of me announcing the tournament, four teams of 8 students had formed, representing about a third of the class. Indeed, I would have had one or two more teams if I had been willing to run more than four games. It should be noted that 23 of the 32 players were female, further evidence—as if any were needed—that women are just as happy to play conflict, policy, or crisis games if the environment is right.
In all four games the At-Risk cards in each district were placed in a pre-arranged order, as were the cards in the Event deck. While this did not eliminate all random variation across the games (since Coordination cards cannot be prearranged and must be randomly drawn), it eliminated much of it and assured a more-or-less level playing field whereby each group was facing a similar degree of challenge. It also allowed me to make certain that particular cards or effects would make an appearance in the game, so that they could be used as teachable moments.
The scores across the four games are shown below. The shade of green indicates how well each group or team did. In one of the games (#1) the players won quite comfortably, in one they lost fairly substantially (#4), and in two others they only just came out ahead in the closing stages of the game (#2, #3). This is a fairly typical distribution of outcomes. I probably could have made the games a little harder—although perhaps this means everyone had been listening to my class lectures on the importance of humanitarian coordination.
The tournament format went well, and I will certainly be using a similar format again next year. The only possible drawback was spending four evenings on campus outside classroom hours, running games—but the participants were so enthusiastic and engaged that I frankly had a lot of fun doing it!