PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Tag Archives: AFTERSHOCK

AFTERSHOCK in Medina Country

Daniel Sutliff (Medina County Community Response Team and Ohio Military Reserve) contributed the following report to PAXsims.


 

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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!

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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.

Daniel Sutliff

AFTERSHOCK in Ottawa

Earlier this month I ran a game of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game for a dozen students at Sir Robert Borden High School in Nepean (Ottawa).

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.

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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.

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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!

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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 hosting me, and Alexandra Barbulescu (veteran of the CanGames 2019 zombie apocalypse) for inviting me.

 

AFTERSHOCK in play

On Twitter, a couple of users have recently tweeted images of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game being used as an educational game.

BA/BSc Geography students playing AFTERSHOCK at the University of Gloucestershire:

40 Commando Royal Marines playing AFTERSHOCK at the University of Exeter:

AFTERSHOCK “Deal of the Day” at The Game Crafter

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

GMS Journal for Medical Education: Using AFTERSHOCK to teach about disaster medicine

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 [7], [8], [9], [10]. 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 [11].

Conclusion

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).

AFTERSHOCK and MaGCK availability from The Game Crafter

TGClogo_circle_400x400.jpgFrom time to time, The Game Crafter runs short on some game components for AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game or the Matrix Game Construction Kit. If so, click the “email me when I can buy” button on the TGC order page to be notified when the game is shipping once again.

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.

 

 

AFTERSHOCK and WFP

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.

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You too can donate to WFP here.

If you want to buy your own copy of AFTERSHOCK, you will find it at The Game Crafter

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AFTERSHOCK en français

Although AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis is only available in English, Gilles Deleuze has just posted a very good French translation of the rules to Board Game Geek. Many thanks, Gilles!

This is probably also a good time to thank Bartosz Bolechów for his Polish translation of the rules, first posted to BGG in 2015.

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AFTERSHOCK being played at Peace Direct in London in September 2017 (with a great shot of my back).

AFTERSHOCK review at GrogHeads

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At GrogHeads, Brant Guillory takes a look at AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game.

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….

You’ll find the full piece here.

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If you want to see the game in action, I’ll be running a game at Peace Direct (in London UK) on September 4,  and another at the Connections UK professional wargaming conference on September 5 (during the “informal games session” after dinner). AFTERSHOCK also be a featured game at the MORS Worgaming Workshop III.

A listing of forthcoming demonstration and participation games can be found here.

If the game is sold out at The Game Crafter, try again a few weeks later. They are a print-on-demand publisher, and occasionally run out of components.

Workshop on “simulated peacebuilding”

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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.nolan@peacedirect.org

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).

The workshop will take place at Peace Direct’s office in London.

Full details can be found here.

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Peace Direct, First Floor, 1 King Edward’s Road, London, E9 7SF

AFTERSHOCK in London

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Live in London (UK) and want to try out AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game? There’s now a copy available to play at the Draughts Board Game Café.

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McGill AFTERSHOCK tournament 2017

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.

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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.

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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!

AFTERSHOCK at Pennsylvania State University

The following report on a recent game of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game at Pennsylvania State University is provided by Nick LaLone.


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For the past two semesters, I have had the opportunity to run AFTERSHOCK for a crisis informatics course here at Pennsylvania State University’s Information Sciences and Technology program. The IST program is not international relations, political science, or social science focused in any way. Instead, this class focuses on the use of information and communication technologies and how those ICTs support crisis management. To that end, the use of AFTERSHOCK was meant to offer these students a glimpse at the various bottlenecks and pitfalls that crisis responders must deal with as a response evolves.

Through that lens, we gathered these 20 students in a conference room and sat them down to play – five students to a team. I began by explaining the goal of the game, the major players, their motivations, and ended with the sequence of a turn. Given that explanation, play began. In total, the room learned how to play the game in less than 30 minutes.

The following caveats should be noted:

  1. The players were told that if they were not participating in the cluster that they could not communicate with the other teams. This was done by placing them inside another room if they were not there. Sadly, no players actually did this.
  2. I stacked the deck for the first turn. The cards I chose were:
    • Landslides – a card that allowed me to talk about the Frontier.
    • Things Change – a card that allowed me to talk about Needs Assessments.
    • Infrastructure Breakdown, which allowed me to talk about the difference between supplies and infrastructure.
  3. The first turn ended with “Trying Times.” This card resolves the highest risk card on the board. I suggested throughout the first 3 turns that players try to meet needs according to the number of people listed on the card and the number of relief points that card represented. My hope was that this would generate some competition and the students would prioritize rescuing according to “big numbers.”

Over the course of 2 hours, we played through 4 turns or through 2 weeks of response efforts. While it was not a complete game, it was enough to see the game take shape and the players start to recognize their roles.

At the beginning of the game, the 4 representative teams – the host country, the humanitarian coalition (HADR-TF), the United Nations, and the Non-Government Organizations – were pretty much all at the same place in terms of the knowledge of the game and the knowledge of what they needed to do. This quickly changed as the first turn ended. By the second turn, the media played a significant role within the game. In AFTERSHOCK the media begin with their cameras pointed at the administrative district or District 1. However, the Infrastructure Breakdown card allowed the players to move the media. The United Nations decided to move the media to a place that benefited them and only them – to district 4 or the middle class areas. The media would remain here for the rest of the game. On their first turn, the United Nations players asked,

“So you get points if the media is watching but what happens if they aren’t there and you save all those people?”

To which we replied,

“You know that you did a fantastic job saving all those people! The response effort as a whole becomes more stable.”

To that answer, the UN and NGO player began to concentrate on “Media Outreach.” The UN did this by distributing teams and resources wherever the media was in addition to maintaining a presence within the Media Outreach portion of the cluster. The NGO player, who was stuck without any ability to import resources due to few infrastructure being placed at the airport or dock until turn 3, sat inside the “Media Outreach” box giving themselves points for the duration of the game. It was not until week 2 – 3 turns into the game – that the NGOs began to send resources out into the field. Instead, they concentrated on placing individuals inside the “Rescue” boxes on the districts. This way, the NGOs would be represented should the media move. This tactic worked well for them as at the end of the game, the NGO was well ahead of everyone else in terms of Operations Points.

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At the end of the game, we asked the room what they thought of the game. Overall, they liked what they played. They felt that the tensions were realistic even if the act of what they were doing was not. They felt a little distressed that they began to think about what they were doing in terms of points. The selfishness of what they were doing left them quite shocked. From my perspective as a facilitator, they were noticing that their role as leaders of a particular organization was clouding their ideas about what it was that they were doing. Along those lines, I didn’t start using the expansion cards until Week 2. I have a feeling if I had started using them at the beginning of the game, things would have been very different as the expansion cards concentrate on empathy and vulnerability instead of simply numbers.

Along with that selfishness, they also notice that they didn’t speak to other teams. Each turn, the active player would walk up to the game board to discuss their move. When each team was at the table discussing their possibilities, the other teams whispered among themselves what they’d like to do. Often, they ignored most of what the active player said.

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As facilitator, I tried to get them to work more together but it only really occurred once when the Carana player drew the Coordination Card that allowed them to resolve an event at the end of their turn. The Carana group fared the worst out of all of the players as they were the target of Locally Engaged Staff as well as inundated with mostly Shelter for the duration of the game. At one point, they stood at the front of the table looking at the UN and the NGOs in the Media Outreach box and said something to the effect of,

“You know, we should put someone there to force them to actually play the game.”

The role of the media in this game influenced what the players did far more than any game I have played, solo, team-based, or with my wife. That it came to matter for a room full of students in a technology-based course was not surprising.

PaxSims concentrates on wargame and simulation use within those disciplines that concern themselves with conflict, peacebuilding, and development. However, there is incredible opportunity outside those realms with AFTERSHOCK Rex’s game a unique opportunity for teaching and learning. The tensions, the randomized interaction between the groups, and multi-dimensional thought processes the game requires will loosen up that undergraduate fear of speaking aloud. AFTERSHOCK will help your students see unique perspectives that cannot be taught or learned in a book.

Nick LaLone 

Gaming foreign policy (at the FSI)

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On Monday I spent the day at the George P. Shultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center in Alexandria, VA, where the Foreign Service Institute trains State Department personnel and others.

The Institute’s programs include training for the professional development of Foreign Service administrative, consular, economic/commercial, political, and public diplomacy officers; for specialists in the fields of information management, office management, security, and medical practitioners and nurses; for Foreign Service Nationals who work at U.S. posts around the world; and for Civil Service employees of the State Department and other agencies. Ranging in length from one day to two years, courses are designed to promote successful performance in each professional assignment, to ease the adjustment to other countries and cultures, and to enhance the leadership and management capabilities of the U.S. foreign affairs community.

This is the second time in two months that I’ve had the opportunity to speak to foreign ministry personnel about the potential use of games-based methods for both training and analysis—in September, I also made a presentation at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. This time I offered an overview of the why, what, and how of foreign policy simulation and gaming, and then took some of the participants through games of both AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game and the ISIS Crisis matrix game. You’ll find the slides I used in my presentation here..

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In the game of AFTERSHOCK, the score initially plunged deep into the negatives. However,  effective priority-setting and coordination during mid-game play ultimately resulted in a  very solid victory (especially for the apparently very popular government of Carana).

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The Government of Carana rushes large numbers of security personnel to District 2 to deal with mounting social unrest.

Our game of ISIS Crisis reflected the current situation, with Iraqi and Kurdish forces undertaking operations against ISIS in Mosul. These made gradual progress, but were slowed by ISIS use of chemical IEDs, a scandal over Iranian arms shipments to Iraq, and an Iraqi cabinet crisis that resulted in the return of Nouri al-Maliki to the position of Prime Minister of Iraq—much to the dismay of Iraqi Sunnis, Washington, and Tehran alike. Despite pledges that Shiite militias would not play a role in the Mosul campaign, they did so anyway—aggravating sectarian tensions. ISIS sought to organize simultaneous mass casualty attacks in the US, but the FBI managed to insert an informant among the plotters and arrested everyone involved before the attacks could be carried out. The game ended with ISIS still in Mosul, and military operations still underway. Afterwards much of the discussion focused on how best to debrief matrix games so as to best attain the desired learning outcomes.

Many thanks are due to Walker Hardy and the FSI for organizing and hosting my visit.

Gaming talks at Duke University

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Today I have been a guest of colleagues at Duke University, giving a couple of talks on serious games.

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Discussing the design of AFTERSHOCK.

The first was a session with students from an interdisciplinary seminar on “Games and Culture: Politics, Pleasure and Pedagogy,” where I discussed Designing AFTERSHOCK. In this I drew upon an earlier presentation to Dstl on designing a humanitarian assistance/disaster relief game, as well as my keynote address to Connections UK 2016 on the social science of gaming and a talk at the RAND gaming Center on semi-cooperative games.

In the evening I spoke on Gaming in Support of the (late) Middle East Peace Process. You’ll find the slides for that talk here.

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I would like to express my gratitude to Shai Ginsburg and Leo Ching for inviting me to Duke and their generous hospitality, and to the students and other participants for very productive and stimulating discussions.

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Demonstrating ISIS CRISIS.

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